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  Bishop Wants Data on Priests
Austin Diocese's Leader Pressing Religious Orders for Confidential Files on Priests' Pasts

By Eileen E. Flynn
Austin American-Statesman
May 18, 2002

Austin's Catholic bishop is asking top officials of religious orders to reveal past misconduct of priests now serving in the diocese.

The Austin Diocese keeps files on its own priests, called diocesan priests, who are ordained here and serve in the 25-county area. The files include all of a priest's assignments and any complaints lodged against him.

But the diocese has scant information on priests sent here by their religious orders. Those records usually stay with the orders' provincials or superiors, who are often located in other parts of the country or the world.

The deficiency has come to light here in recent weeks as three priests with Central Texas ties, all of them members of orders, have been accused of sexual abuse.

Last Sunday, Austin Bishop Gregory Aymond announced that he had removed the Rev. Dan Drinan, who was pastor of parishes in Martindale and Uhland, after receiving a complaint of inappropriate behavior with a minor.

The Claretian order, to which Drinan belongs, refused to release any information on the priest, and the Austin Diocese's records did not include Drinan's background information.

Aymond is asking the provincials of all 17 orders represented in the diocese to provide what once were considered confidential details of every priest's past. At a time when the church is under fire nationally for allowing sexually abusive priests to remain in the ministry, he said he must level pointed questions:

Has the priest ever been accused of misconduct? Did the accusation involve verbal, physical or sexual abuse? How were the allegations resolved?

"By taking (a priest) into the diocese, I take on pastoral and moral responsibilities for his actions," Aymond said. "He could be recommended by a particular superior, but then I have to make a decision apart from that if the diocese wishes to take on that responsibility."

There is one matter on which Aymond said he will not bend.

"If there is ever an applicant to our diocese that has ever been involved in pedophilia," he said, "there is no way whatsoever they would ever be invited to serve in the Diocese of Austin."

For years, all that a bishop usually required when accepting a priest dispatched by a religious order was a provincial's letter of recommendation. The priest's file, which would include previous assignments and information about medical or psychological concerns, stayed with the order.

The Rev. Richard Nowery, a member of the Holy Cross order, was sent from Austin to New Orleans in 1997. The provincial at the time did not inform the Archdiocese of New Orleans that Nowery had been accused of sexually abusing minors in Austin in the 1980s or that the priest had subsequently received treatment.

Archbishop Alfred Hughes discovered the allegations during a recent review of priests' files and removed Nowery from his role as a pastor in New Orleans last month.

The third priest with Central Texas ties is the Rev. Rocco Perone, a Paulist named in a lawsuit in Portland, Ore., last month that accuses him of molesting a 9-year-old boy there dozens of times over a two-year period. He was based at St. Austin's Catholic Church in Austin from 1957 to 1988 and died in 1992.

When it comes to providing the personal details that bishops are starting to demand, some wonder whether priests will be able to guard any confidential information. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is expected to debate that question when it meets in Dallas next month.

"Some of the bishops have forms: 'Has this person ever had counseling?' Well, should we be putting that out?" asked the Rev. John Korcsmar, who heads the Holy Cross order's southern province. "It's not quite as simple as, let's just tell the bishop everything."

Aymond argues that priests are public people, and bishops have a right to know as much as they can about them.

There are hundreds of religious orders that form communities around the world, each with its own mission. Members include priests, brothers and nuns. Some live in reclusive settings, such as Trappist monks, while others run missions, hospitals and parishes and teach in Catholic colleges.

Unlike diocesan priests, who typically serve in one diocese throughout their careers, priests who belong to orders are not limited to one geographical area.

In the Austin Diocese, there are 53 priests representing 17 religious orders, compared with 131 diocesan priests. Each religious-order priest answers to a provincial but is also bound by the bishop's rules.

A bishop can remove a nondiocesan priest or prevent him from being assigned to or even living in a diocese. The bishop is also in charge of parishes run by religious orders, such as St. Austin's, which is operated by the Paulist order.

But a provincial is responsible for the priests in his order. He issues assignments, maintains a priest's file and determines — in the case of allegations of misconduct, for example — whether a priest should undergo psychological treatment or be removed from the ministry.

In most cases, priests from orders take a vow of poverty, which means the order supports them financially.

In Nowery's case, Korcsmar must determine the next step for the priest. As a provincial, he doesn't disagree with his predecessor's decision to keep Nowery's problems confidential. Nowery was treated and not considered a danger to children, Korcsmar said.

"He's still part of the community," Korcsmar said. "We're responsible for his welfare. The flip part of that is we have to be responsible for his behavior."

eflynn@statesman.com; 445-3812

(from box)

Orders that serve in the Austin Diocese

Men's religious orders in the Austin Diocese and the parishes and institutions they serve include:

Brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross — St. Edward's University, Austin

Claretian Missionaries — St. John the Evangelist, San Marcos (leaving July 1)

Congregation of Holy Cross Priests — Dolores Church, Austin; St. Ignatius Martyr, Austin; Holy Cross, Bertram; Mother of Sorrows, Burnet; Holy Family, Copperas Cove; associate pastor at St. John Neumann, Austin; St. Paul the Apostle, Horseshoe Bay

Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries — Church of the Visitation, Westphalia

Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) — St. Charles Borromeo, Kingsland; Our Lady of the Lake, Sunrise Beach

Dominican Friars

Franciscan Fathers (Order of Friars Minor)

Conventual Franciscans — Cristo Rey, Austin. Founded by St. Francis of Assisi, the Franciscan priests and brothers are teachers, carpenters, health-care workers and pastors.

Franciscan Fathers (Third Order Regular) — Sacred Heart, Waco; St. Francis on the Brazos, Waco

Jesuit Fathers and Brothers — St. Andrew Kim, Leander; associate pastor, St. Paul Chong Hasang, Harker Heights. Founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuits are one of the church's largest orders and well-known for their college teaching.

Oblates of Mary Immaculate — Our Lady of Guadalupe, Austin. Called the 'specialists in difficult missions' by Pope Pius XI, the Oblates were founded in 1816 and focus on ministering to the poor.

Missionaries of Faith — St. Mary, Bremond; Sacred Heart, Lott; St. Joseph, Marlin; St. Mary, Mexia

Missionaries of the Sacred Heart — St. Ferdinand, Blanco; St. Paul Chong Hasang, Harker Heights; Good Shepherd, Johnson City; St. Mary, Lampasas

Missionaries of St. Paul — Holy Cross, Austin. The order was established in 1977 in Nigeria to address a new era of evangelism after the Second Vatican Council and has expanded to serve several countries around the world.

Paulist Fathers — St. Austin, Austin. The Paulists, founded in the United States in 1858, are known for ministering to all faiths and helping former Catholics reconcile with the church.

Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians) — Sacred Heart, Rockne; St. Mary, String Prairie

Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity

Contact: eflynn@statesman.com.

 
 

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