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  Showdown in Dallas:
An Open Conflict between Two Bishops Has Helped to Expose Deeper Problems in a Troubled Diocese

By Rod Dreher
Catholic World Report
July 2, 2003

July 2 (CWR) - Dallas: There is no question that this Texas city will figure prominently when historians write the story of the current Church sex scandal. Will it be as the place where the US bishops first attempted to deal together with the worst crisis in American Catholic history? Or will it be where a discredited and unpopular bishop set a new standard in grasping for power as his diocese continued a long slide under his leadership? Fast-breaking events in Dallas this spring may answer the question.

Before the bishops' conference gathering here last summer made Dallas a byword for the reform policies, the city's name was shorthand in Catholic circles for the worst abuse-related courtroom disaster in Church history. In 1997, a civil jury found the diocese liable for sexual abuse committed by Father Rudy Kos, and awarded his 11 male victims and their families nearly $120 million--a record sum later reduced to $31 million in a settlement.

The Kos trial put Bishop Charles V. Grahman--then, as now, the Dallas ordinary--in a terrible light, as it did his predecessor, Bishop Thomas Tschoepe. Evidence showed that Tschoepe, who had been bishop for nearly the entire period of Kos' abuse, and his top aide Msgr. Robert Rehkemper, were frequently made aware of the pedophile priest's deeds, and did little or nothing.

The retired Bishop Tschoepe never testified at the trial, claiming to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease. After the trial, the Dallas Morning News found him saying Mass and keeping a full schedule as assistant pastor of a small-town parish south of the city.

Bishop Grahmann had only been bishop for two years before finally removing Kos, but testimony showed that he and Msgr. Rehkemper had been informed earlier, both orally and in writing, about Kos' activities, and had not acted. The bishop's reputation took a beating during the trial, and Msgr. Rehkemper's post-verdict interviews, in which he said the child victims and their families were partly to blame for the assaults, did not endear him further to his people.

It was no surprise when the Holy See named a coadjutor bishop to the Dallas diocese, given the financial and pastoral catastrophe for which Bishop Grahmann bore significant responsibility. It had to have come as a shock to Grahmann, who had requested an assistant bishop, not a coadjutor. The appointment of a coadjutor is universally recognized as a sign from Rome that it expects the sitting bishop of a problem diocese to retire and make way for new management. Bishop Joseph Galante of Beaumont, Texas, was installed in Dallas in January, 2000 - whereupon Bishop Grahmann announced he had no intention of resigning before he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Still in the Saddle

Over three years later Bishop Galante, 64, is still here, and so is 71-year-old Bishop Grahmann. Father Thomas Reese, S.J., editor of America magazine and a historian of the Church in America, says the coadjutor situation in Dallas is almost without precedent in this country. The only situation like it was the case of Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup, New Mexico, who was forced to wait four years to succeed the late Bishop Jerome J. Hastrich in 1990.

That Bishops Grahmann and Galante did not get along well has been a more or less open secret here for some time, with strong hints of this being aired in a Dallas Morning News story in June 2002. Five months later, Bishop Galante took the extraordinary step of taking their feud public by telling the Dallas Morning News that he had tried in vain to convince Grahmann to suspend the cathedral rector from ministry after the priest, who is close to Grahmann, was accused of fondling an adult male during a blessing. Aides to Grahmann told the News that Father Alvarez's conduct with the man was inappropriate, but consensual, and that he would remain in ministry. This appeared to contradict the diocese's own policy, which states that sexual misconduct of any sort "will not be tolerated under any circumstances."

"You see what kind of influence I have," Galante told the newspaper. "I'm keeping a very low profile."

Father Reese says, "It's extremely rare for a coadjutor and a bishop to be publicly at odds. The closest comparison is the situation in Seattle back in the 1980s, with [Archbishop Raymond] Hunthausen and [Auxiliary Bishop Donald] Wuerl, but Wuerl wasn_t a coadjutor."

An Agreement to Resign?

Although Bishop Galante -- a USCCB spokesman who cuts an impressive figure in media appearances -- has a national reputation as a hard-liner on clerical sexual abuse, he is not particularly well thought of by many orthodox Catholics in Dallas. They remember how he protected and defended two Dallas priests involved in the lewd St. Sebastian's Angels website for homosexual priests, even as he publicly justified the reassignment of two conservative priests for failing to complete background checks of all employees and volunteers at their parishes. Father Reese says Bishop Galante is highly regarded by his episcopal colleagues, but several area priests, despite having been ordered by Bishop Grahmann not to talk to the media, told Catholic World Report that many in the Dallas presbyterate consider Galante to be little more than an ambitious careerist.

Nevertheless, Bishop Galante's image received a boost when he went public in November of last year with his criticism of and frustration with the intransigent Bishop Grahmann over the case of the cathedral rector. Days after the interview was published, the News published an editorial calling for Bishop Grahmann to resign, accusing him of enforcing the diocese's sex-abuse policy "inconsistently--and sometimes not at all--at the diocese's great peril."

Texas Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, responded by launching a campaign against the News, a drama that had special poignancy because the publisher of the News, James Moroney III, comes from one of Dallas's oldest and most distinguished Catholic families. That set off Wick Allison, an active Catholic layman and publisher of the monthly city magazine D, who devoted his February 2003 column to defending the Moroney family. [See sidebar.] "In the process," Allison recalled to CWR, "I revealed that the bishop had reneged six years ago on a deal with a group of Catholic businessmen, who included the older Mr. Moroney and myself, to resign."

Responding in the diocesan newspaper, Bishop Grahmann admitted meeting with the laymen in the immediate aftermath of the Kos judgment, but denied that there was a resignation protocol. His aides gathered a group of mainline Protestant leaders, including the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Methodist bishops of Dallas, to state their public support for their Catholic counterpart, and to take a shot at the media. Allison responded tartly in a News op-ed column by charging, "The bishop had to elicit support from other denominations because he obviously enjoys so little support within his own."

"The response from the Catholic community was overwhelmingly supportive," Allison says. He continues: "This includes people from all walks of life, lay leaders from many parishes, and even some clerics, including a retired bishop in our province who urged me to press the case with the papal nuncio. There are few ways for Catholics to express themselves, and the message I received was one of gratitude that someone in a position to speak out had done so."

New Revelations, New Crises

The next bombshell to drop on the weary diocese came in early May, when Bishop Galante granted another interview to the News, this time saying that he expected the Holy See to move him to another diocese. "For the good of the diocese, I would like to see this situation resolved. I would expect Bishop Grahmann to feel the same way," he said. Bishop Grahmann offered no comment.

"I came to Dallas expecting to spend the rest of my life here," Bishop Galante told the News, with shocking frankness. "When I was appointed coadjutor, I was told that I would become bishop of Dallas in a reasonable amount of time."

Clearly Bishop Galante feels betrayed and abandoned by the Holy See, which is reluctant to force the stubborn Bishop Grahmann to go. Colleagues have said the beleaguered coadjutor wants the opportunity to lead a major diocese before he is compelled by age to retire. Bishop Galante's taking the extraordinary step of admitting in public that Grahmann has worn him down shows how desperate he is to get Rome's attention and assistance.

Meanwhile, it is shaping up to be a long, hot summer in Dallas. New revelations have recently surfaced that Bishop Grahmann gave special treatment to an Irish-born priest with a long history of credible child-molestation accusations, on which the diocese has paid legal claims. Bishop Grahmann let Father Patrick J. Lynch retire in good standing in 1995, after a record of alleged abuse stretching back 30 years. The News reported that Grahmann sent Lynch to Ireland with a letter commending him "on doing such a great job for the people of the diocese." Two years later, Bishop Grahmann suspended Lynch after media reports of his past, but waited a year to notify the bishops of Ireland and England. To this day, the diocese refuses to consider laicizing the priest, and claims it doesn't know how to find him - even though it sends a monthly pension check to Lynch's overseas bank.

More ominously for Bishop Grahmann, in mid-May the diocese announced that a Filipino-born priest suspended last summer after being accused of having raped a nun 20 years ago, was being reinstated and moved to St. Francis of Assisi, a parish in the suburb of Frisco. The News promptly reported that this priest, Msgr. Ernesto Villaroya, had signed a sworn affidavit admitting paternity of the child conceived in the sex act with the (now former) nun, which the priest contends was consensual.

What's more, it turns out that the civil suit the woman filed last year against the priest was indeed dismissed by a California court, as the diocese told the public; but it was dismissed only because the statute of limitations had tolled; the evidence against Villaroya was not heard in court. Finally, the background check that the diocese insists cleared Msgr. Villaroya was so sloppily done that neither Villaroya's accuser nor the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Villaroya served several troubled years and was refused incardination, were contacted by Bishop Grahmann's investigators. Yet the diocesan review board - of which Bishop Galante is a member - approved reassigning Villaroya to parish ministry.

As this issue of CWR was going to press, the Villaroya imbroglio appeared to be turning into a serious crisis for the diocese. Three months ago, a heavily Hispanic parish had its popular Spanish-speaking pastor removed overnight and sent out of the country, without explanation from the chancery. The parish had been furious with Bishop Grahmann over this, and had been desperate for a Spanish-speaking priest to replace him. Now they have learned that Bishop Grahmann sent them an accused rapist and admitted father of a love child with an ex-nun. Local Spanish media have been covering the story intensely. Said one observer, "That place is getting ready to blow sky-high."

This is significant because Bishop Grahmann has always thought of himself as a special friend to the city's Hispanic Catholics, who make up 61 percent of the diocese, and who are believed to be far more supportive of the bishop than Anglos. Bishop Grahmann and his cabinet are quick to tell reporters about the wonderful relationship he has with Latinos.

If Grahmann loses the Hispanics, he will have no base of support left. Then again, with Rome disinclined to take firm measures to end the prolonged leadership crisis in the Dallas diocese, Bishop Grahmann doesn't really need one.

[Rod Dreher is an editorial writer and columnist for the Dallas Morning News.]

 
 

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