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  Pedophile Priest Was Protected, Victims Say
Archdiocese Denies It Covered up Abuse

By Brooks Egerton
The Dallas Morning News
June 12, 1998

In a letter read to parishioners Sunday, Texas' highest-ranking Roman Catholic official announced his faith's latest multimillion-dollar settlement with the victims of a pedophile priest.

"We wish that we had known in time to prevent this tragedy," said San Antonio Archbishop Patrick F. Flores.

The archdiocese long ago knew plenty, victims of the Rev. Xavier Ortiz-Dietz say. For example, it received a Mexican college's report in 1974 saying that Father Ortiz-Dietz - then a priest candidate new to San Antonio - suffered from "marked sexual conflict," paranoia and delusions.

And in sworn affidavits, two women have said they warned archdiocesan officials in the 1980s that the priest might be a child molester. Father Ortiz-Dietz served as a pastor from the late 1970s until 1992, when the first documented abuse reports surfaced.

Archdiocesan attorney Tom Drought said his clients regret the abuse but denied covering it up. He said he had been prepared to counter all the plaintiffs' evidence, though he acknowledged that some of it was "very damaging."

It was the archbishop himself, official correspondence shows, who had urged the troubled seminarian to come to Texas, telling him at one point not to worry about a possible bad recommendation from a Mexican bishop.

In a sworn deposition last December, Archbishop Flores said he had not recruited prospective priests in Mexico, had never before seen the Mexican school's report, had nothing to do with Father Ortiz-Dietz's acceptance by the San Antonio archdiocesan seminary and didn't recall meeting him until the man was attending classes there.

The archbishop - widely revered as the nation's first Mexican-American bishop and considered the moral leader of Texas' 4.6 million Catholics - did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Father Ortiz-Dietz, 52, a self-styled exorcist who some victims say used threats of eternal fire, was sentenced in 1994 to 20 years in state prison. He pleaded no contest to three abuse charges and never spoke publicly about them; he also refused to answer plaintiffs' questions in civil litigation, invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

The Guadalajara-based Instituto de Vocaciones Adultas' final report on student Ortiz-Dietz for 1972-73 described results of a personality profile "so negative that the Father who performed it deemed it a very special case" and recommended that the young man quit.

"The following," the report said, "are among the more serious personality traits that were found: marked sexual conflict, hypocrisy, defense mechanisms, desires of appearing different than he really is, puritanical attitudes, distortion of reality, obsessive manias, pronounced paranoid characteristics, delusions of grandeur, vanity and narcissism."

Mr. Drought argued that the report was not an expert psychological evaluation.

Archbishop Flores was an assistant bishop in late 1973 when he met student Ortiz-Dietz on a trip to Mexico and began corresponding with him, according to documents from Assumption Seminary in San Antonio.

By spring 1974, the student was attending a religious college in Mexico City and faring poorly again, according to his letters. He wrote to Archbishop Flores wondering if he'd be accepted to the Texas seminary and expressing frustration at gathering paperwork for his application.

Responded the archbishop: "Obtain what you can and don't worry about the rest. Even if you were to receive a negative evaluation from the bishop of Oaxaca [a third Mexican city where Father Ortiz-Dietz studied], his recommendation will not be treated as an invalidating document. I honestly think you should be making plans to come to San Antonio . . ."

In his deposition, the archbishop testified that seminary candidates of Father Ortiz-Dietz's era were evaluated exclusively by the Rev. Jose Lopez, who was the archdiocese's director of vocations.

Father Lopez testified that he got the Guadalajara report after Mr. Ortiz-Dietz arrived in San Antonio in summer 1974. He said he never talked to the priest who wrote it, and he stressed positive recommendations received from others.

"Did you ever do any background check . . . to find out what the problem was with Dietz at that point in time when that personality profile was done?" asked plaintiffs' attorney Harry Bates.

"What problem?" responded Father Lopez.

"That does not indicate a problem to you?" Mr. Bates persisted, referring to the "marked sexual conflict" and other traits. "You don't have a problem with that?"

"No, I don't."

"Tell me why."

"Because we receive - we have received from Mexico harsh evaluations of students. . . . It's common."

7 settled for $ 4 million

The seven young men represented by Mr. Bates settled their negligence claims last week for a total of $ 4 million. He said they've asked to remain anonymous and didn't hold out for the larger sums won in similar Dallas cases, fearing that a jury in heavily Catholic San Antonio would be overly loyal to Archbishop Flores.

The archdiocesan attorney also spoke of the cleric's power. "The popularity of our archbishop would be intimidating," Mr. Drought said Thursday. "He would've been there at that table every day of the trial."

In the letter read at Mass, Archbishop Flores said that church officials investigated promptly "as soon as the first of these young men came forward . . . and removed Father Dietz from the parishes where he served and any further ministry in the archdiocese."

That process took more than two weeks, suggests a memo written by the Rev. Lawrence Stuebben , a top aide to the archbishop.

The memo says that two parents initially complained to another priest, who forwarded the information to Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Popp six days later. Another week passed before a member of the archdiocesan Crisis Intervention Committee interviewed boys and alerted a state Child Protective Services office, the memo indicates.

It says Archbishop Flores met with the accused priest a few days later and told him he would "have to go away for a psychological evaluation."

Archbishop Flores testified in his deposition that Father Ortiz-Dietz remains a priest and that church officials haven't asked the Vatican to return him to the lay state - something the Dallas Diocese has pushed with its most notorious pedophile, the Rev. Rudolph "Rudy" Kos.

"Why hasn't that happened?" Mr. Bates asked.

"Why should it?" responded Archbishop Flores.

"Well, you don't feel he's fit to be a priest, do you?"

"Well, he's fit for certain ministries" and could say Mass in prison, the archbishop said. "He could be a priest in isolation or in a monastery. . . . "

Breaking the silence

In his pastoral career, Father Ortiz-Dietz worked almost exclusively in rural Texas parishes with large numbers of Spanish speakers. U.S. immigration officials granted the Mexican citizen permission to work after the archdiocese argued, in part, that "there is a critical shortage" of bilingual priests.

Father Ortiz-Dietz served first in Yoakum, 100 miles east of San Antonio; then in Rocksprings, Leakey and Camp Wood, about 100 miles northwest of the city; and finally in Von Ormy and Macdona, 12 miles to the southwest.

The civil and criminal cases were built on events that occurred during the final assignment, although Mr. Bates gathered sworn testimony about abuse in all the parishes. He credited private investigator and former altar boy Johnny Rodriguez Jr. with helping him break the silence of many Hispanic Catholics.

One of their witnesses was Jesse Arriaga, who told of being fondled and forced into anal sex as a 12-year-old altar boy in Yoakum. He said he spent the night about 20 times at the rectory, which Father Ortiz-Dietz shared with Auxiliary Bishop Hugo Gerbermann.

The bishop, now deceased, "was aware on numerous occasions that I spent the night at the rectory with Father Dietz," says an affidavit from Mr. Arriaga.

He came forward in late 1992, too late under Texas law to sue or press criminal charges. He told a priest on the Crisis Intervention Committee that he was in therapy, suffering from shame, loss of faith, flashbacks and marital problems.

Mr. Arriaga said he did not hear again from that priest, the Rev. Dennis Darilek, until late 1997, when it appeared that Mr. Bates' case might proceed to trial. Father Darilek contacted him twice to express concern about his financial situation and gave him a total of $ 550, he said.

"I inquired why the archdiocese was contacting me after all of these years," Mr. Arriaga's affidavit says, "and I was told by Father Darilek that he was concerned about me and wanted to help me out."

Mr. Drought said that Mr. Arriaga had "hit up" Father Darilek for money. Mr. Arriaga, who now lives in Victoria, denied this; he said he did tell the priest that he believed he deserved compensation for what had been done to him.

Soon, Mr. Arriaga said, he was approached a third time and told that Archbishop Flores wanted to meet him for a "healing ceremony." The young man went to San Antonio wearing a hidden tape recorder and received a $ 15,000 check, after signing a statement saying he had not reported his abuse before fall 1992.

Suspicions reported

Another key witness was Rock-springs resident Grace Benavidez Palacio, who said she reported suspicions of abuse to the archbishop almost a decade earlier.

She said that in late 1983, at age 17, she and her fiance met with Father Ortiz-Dietz for marriage counseling. According to her affidavit, the priest began by telling her fiance, "What are you going to do when you all are on your honeymoon and you ask her to perform . . . [oral sex] and she won't know what to do?"

Ms. Palacio said she and her fiance became upset and left. The incident, she said in the affidavit, led her to reflect on other things she'd been hearing - that the priest was showing pornographic movies to boys and giving them beer.

She said she called the archdiocese a couple of days later and spoke directly with Archbishop Flores, who sent a priest to investigate the following week. There is no record of such an investigation in personnel records that the archdiocese surrendered to plaintiffs' attorneys.

The only sign that her complaints were heard, Ms. Palacio said, is that Father Ortiz-Dietz became angry with her. She and her fiance quit being active parishioners; Father Ortiz-Dietz stayed on the job.

In an interview, Ms. Palacio said she remembered kids teasing one youth who visited the rectory with an anti-gay slur and calling him "Dietz's lover." A man in his late teens with the same relatively unusual first name is mentioned in a letter Father Ortiz-Dietz wrote in 1983 to Bishop Popp, who was preparing to go meet the pope in Rome.

The priest asked the bishop to deliver a written message to the pontiff, along with "a picture of my best friend

. . . [the older teen], who also asked me to let him ask the Holy Father for his personal blessing over his career as a singer."

Bishop Popp, now retired, wrote later to say that he delivered the materials. "I bring you the Holy Father's blessing," he said.

Prayerful admission

The second witness who swears she alerted the archdiocese to Father Ortiz-Dietz's tendencies is Lois Heath, who was never one of his parishioners. She worked in 1986-87 as secretary to another priest - a member of a Canadian religious order who was conducting "marital and spiritual love" seminars in South Texas and had hit it off with Father Ortiz-Dietz.

Ms. Heath says in her affidavit that in late 1987, the Mexican priest invited her and her husband to dinner at a south San Antonio restaurant, a few miles from his new posts in Von Ormy and Macdona. Afterward, "we went out in the parking lot to our van and began to pray with him. At this point, he horrified us by telling us about his thoughts and his need to touch boys in ways that he knew were not right. . . ."

Ms. Heath said she didn't think then that Father Ortiz-Dietz was acting on his feelings and didn't report him for several months. She became preoccupied, she said, after learning that her boss had molested two of her three sons.

Ms. Heath said she got help with that situation several months later from the Rev. Edward Everitt, a member of the Crisis Intervention Committee. She said she confided in him that she had concerns about Father Ortiz-Dietz, though without naming him at first.

When she did name him, she said, Father Everitt responded, without explanation, "I thought so." He also took responsibility for getting Father Ortiz-Dietz into therapy, Ms. Heath said.

In a deposition, Father Everitt acknowledged dealing with the case of Ms. Heath's boss but said he didn't remember talking with her about Father Ortiz-Dietz. "I don't think it happened," Father Everitt testified.

Ms. Heath said she now feels utterly betrayed by Catholic leaders and has left the church in which she was raised. The last straw came Sunday, when she heard Archbishop Flores' letter read.

"I stood straight up and looked square at the priest and said, "The archbishop is lying when he said he didn't have prior knowledge,' " Ms. Heath recalled. She said she walked out of the sanctuary, with the congregation silently watching and the priest calling for prayer.

Linda Martinez was in a different church Sunday, dealing with the same sense of isolation. She said she used to defend Father Ortiz-Dietz, even as he was molesting two of her sons and threatening them with his exorcist's powers.

"He told them, "If you say anything, your mother will die, your father will die and you will burn in hell,' " Ms. Martinez said.

Archdiocesan officials made it possible for him to make those threats, she said, but most of her fellow parishioners still don't get it.

"It's pretty hard for people to believe what really happened in our church," Ms. Martinez said. "In their eyes, Archbishop Flores is a very honest and decent man."

 
 

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