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  Jury Delivered Church a 'Devastating' Message

By Susie P. Gonzalez
San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
July 26, 1997

It wasn't exactly a telegram, but Dallas jurors did send a"devastating" $120 million message to the Catholic Church thatits system for dealing with troubled priests is horribly flawed.

That's the view of Jason Berry, author of "Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children."

"This is by far the most devastating legal message that has been sent to the American (Catholic) bishops," Berry said Friday from New Orleans.

His comments came a day after a Dallas jury ordered a defrocked priest and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas to pay what is believed to be the heftiest judgment in church history for molesting 11 men when they were altar boys and conspiring to cover up the abuse.

Berry said the verdict is "a profound moral indictment" of the way the church has handled the priest's shocking behavior.

Dallas diocesan officials said Friday an appeal of the verdict was planned.

Leon Suprenant, vice president of the international Catholic lay organization Catholics United for the Faith located in Steubenville, Ohio, and a lawyer, said he wouldn't be surprised to see the whopping jury damages reduced by a higher court.

"When you talk about damages in seven digits, you're talking about something that would really hurt," he said.

To pay its portion of the judgment, the diocese might have to use reserves, sell property or assess parishioners unless the damages are covered by liability insurance, Suprenant said.

In the past two decades, an estimated 400 of the country's 50,000 or more priests have been linked to sexual abuse of children.

That's an average of one allegation of sexual abuse involving a priest being filed every week, and medical and legal defense costs exceeding $650 million since the 1980s, Berry said.

Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic, who has treated priests accused of sexual misconduct and studied pedophilia, said church leaders have taken steps to help priests.

"Tragically, there have been a number of cases (of priest pedophilia) in this country," Berlin said from Baltimore. "But the church is recognizing the problem and moving to rectify it."

Victims of the Rev. Rudolph Kos, who has been suspended from the priesthood and now lives in San Diego, filed civil lawsuits because they felt proper safeguards were not in place from 1977 to 1992, when the encounters were said to have occurred.

Since then, Dallas diocesan officials have implemented new educational programs and counseling services and adopted new policies on sexual misconduct.

After a series of similar cases here in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Archdiocese of San Antonio in 1995 revised its policy for responding to sexual abuse charges and now requires church and Catholic school employees to attend workshops on the subject.

In putting the new policy into effect, Monsignor Lawrence Stuebben, director of administration for the archdiocese, said he believed the guidelines were "as complete, comprehensive and up-to-date as any in the nation."

He pledged that any allegations against church personnel would be taken seriously in order to protect the rights of victims and their alleged perpetrators.

"We won't sweep anything under the rug," Stuebben said at the time. He could not be reached Friday.

Suprenant said every seminarian spends time learning about the vow of celibacy he is preparing to take.

"We're all human vessels prone to sin. Just because you have ordination does not exempt you," he said. "There are so many good priests out there. The vast majority of priests are remarkable and heroic."

He said there is no convincing proof that the priesthood automatically makes celibate men prey on young children or other men.

Actions such as Kos was accused of portray not someone who was lonely, but "someone who was sick," Suprenant said.

Although he did not discount the pain of the victims of Kos, Suprenant said someone like the former Dallas priest is symptomatic of "a broken world."

Officials of two Protestant denominations in San Antonio said church workers of today must be tuned in to warning signs of misconduct.

"The best thing is education," said the Rev. Lynn Ziese, assistant to Bishop James Bennett of the Southwest Texas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "Churches should have zero tolerance for any kind of incident."

Lewis Lee, missions director of the San Antonio Baptist Association, encourages church leaders during annual legal liability seminars to check references of any prospective employee.

"Being a Christian doesn't make you perfect," Lee said. "But none of us is immune from whatever problems there are out there in the world. We are all affected."

GRAPHIC: Sexual Assault and local Clergy

1988 - Rev. Federico Fernandez, Franciscan priest who served as pastor of St. Clare's Catholic Church, indicted on charges of sexually molesting two teen-age brothers. Prosecutors dismiss charges arguing that a trial would cause psychological damage to the two brothers.

May 1993 - Pasqual Palmerin, a former faculty member at several Catholic schools in San Antonio was sentenced to 15 years in prison and assessed a $10,000 fine after being convicted of indecency with a child.

July 1993 - Rev. Xavier Ortiz-Dietz, an archdiocesan priest and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Von Ormy and Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in Macdona, indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault on a child after five male parishioners accused the priest of molesting them. Serving 20-year sentence. entenced to six months in jail and assessed$2,000 in attorney fees and court costs for contempt of court, in October of 1995, or refusing to answer questions in seven pending civil cases.

February 1994 - Rev. Carlos Lozano, of St. Anthony's High School Seminary, indicted on charges that he molested four teen-age boys. Sentenced to 30 days in jail, after which time he was placed on deferred adjudication, a form of probation, for 10 years.

January 1995 - Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio expands its policy for responding to sexual abuse charges to include sexual harassment and exploitation.

March 1997 - Kevin Connolly, former youth director at MacArthur Park Lutheran Church, jailed in Fort Worth on charges of molesting a 10-year-old girl. Connolly told police he had fondled between 20 and 50 Texas children.

April 1997 - Rev. Joseph Deane, pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church, accused of sexual harassment. Deane was cleared of the complaint.

 
 

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