Abuse Policy Removes Six Texas Priests
FW Cleric Barred from Ministry; Amarillo Says 5 Leaving, More to Come
By Susan Hogan
Dallas Morning News
June 30, 2002
A Catholic priest from the Fort Worth Diocese and five from the Amarillo Diocese are the first reported in Texas affected by a new policy requiring U.S. bishops to permanently remove any priest or deacon who has molested a child.
The Amarillo Diocese said Saturday that three priests have voluntarily resigned and two others were leaving. That diocese also said it expected an undisclosed number of other priests to be removed for past allegations.
Also on Saturday, the Fort Worth Diocese announced that the Rev. Rudolf Renteria had been barred from ministry for an allegation dating back to 1981.
"I deeply regret that I did not act more firmly and decisively in dealing with Father Renteria at the time," Fort Worth Bishop Joseph Delaney said in a written statement. "Although this action may be late, it is never too late to do the right thing."
Father Renteria, 61, could not be reached Saturday for comment.
The 13 other Texas dioceses, including Dallas, said none of their priests was affected by the policy. Some bishops removed priests in the weeks before the June 13-15 meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas, in anticipation of the new clergy sexual abuse policy.
The policy calls for the removal of any priest or deacon who ever sexually abused a minor. They can't minister, lead public worship, wear clerical garb or present themselves publicly as priests. Some priests may be removed from the clerical state entirely, a process known as laicization.
In the past, priests who abused often received treatment and then were allowed to work in restricted ministries as chaplains. Since 1987, Father Renteria has served as a chaplain at several Fort Worth and Dallas hospitals.
"Although this action is tough, especially in light of Father Renteria's effectiveness as a hospital chaplain, our priorities are with the victim," Bishop Delaney said. "I am deeply sorry for what happened to this young person over two decades ago."
Father Renteria was ordained in 1979 and accused of sexual misconduct two years later. The accusations involved improper sexual touching of a 14-year-old boy at St. Matthew Parish in Arlington.
The diocese said Bishop Delaney confronted the priest at the time, but Father Renteria "couldn't confirm or deny the incident because of the influence of alcohol."
After leaving that parish, Father Renteria served parishes in Wichita Falls, Vernon and Lewisville. No sexual abuse complaints were received from those parishes, the diocese said. But after several incidents of disruptive behavior and alcohol abuse at St. Philip Catholic Church in Lewisville, Father Renteria was sent to a priests' treatment center in Canada.
"Based on the recommendations from therapists at the treatment facility, it was determined that though Renteria should not be involved in parish work, he could do effective ministry as a chaplain of some kind," the news release said.
But under the bishops' new charter, Father Renteria is no longer eligible for ministry, even in restricted settings.
The Amarillo Diocese declined to release the names of the five priests affected by the policy or details of the abuse. But it confirmed that Jesie Guerrero, 54, a deacon at San Jose Church in Hereford and the diocese's former youth director, was put on administrative leave last week because of an allegation of abuse with a minor.
Monsignor Harold Waldow, the Amarillo Diocese's vicar of clergy, said he expects the number of priests barred from ministry to grow. In some cases, deacons will be used to fill in the ministry gaps. Although deacons can perform some sacramental functions, they cannot lead Mass as a priest does.
"When the time comes, we will release the names of the priests," the monsignor said. "For now, the bishop has entered into a relationship with them, and three of them have come forward to offer their resignations."
Before the bishops' conference, more than 250 priests nationwide had been removed from ministry since January because of sex scandals. Within days after the bishops adopted the new policy, dozens of other priests were barred.
Last Sunday, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago announced that he had removed eight priests. Five of those priests are fighting their removals, setting up a new round of ecclesiastical battles over the rights of victims vs. their abusive priests.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis removed three priests who had been working in the archdiocesan offices. The Phoenix diocese banned three priests, including one who was an active pastor in the process of changing parishes.
Last week, a priest from Nigeria living in Laredo was arrested and charged with raping a woman while he was working in the Brooklyn, N.Y., Diocese two years ago. Cyriacus Udegbulem, 39, had previous been accused of touching women against their will while working in the Laredo Diocese.
Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo issued a statement saying that Father Udegbulem had worked at the church's health center from March 2000 to August 2001 but that he was no longer employed as a priest in the diocese.
A recent USA Today poll said a majority of the nation's 65 million Catholics support removing sexually abusive priests from ministry. Most Catholics - 89 percent - urged the priests' removal from the clerical state.
Archbishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio has said he will petition the Vatican to defrock any priests in his archdiocese who have sexually abused minors.
The poll also showed that 96 percent of Catholics said bishops who shielded predator priests should be disciplined. Under church law, only the pope can discipline bishops.
The bishops need Vatican approval for their new policy, "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," to become officially binding. The Vatican has not set a time frame for reviewing the policy.
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