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  Diocese Releases Abuse Report but Won't Name Accused Priests

By Eileen E. Flynn
Austin American-Statesman (Texas)
January 6, 2004

Six priests who are accused of sexually abusing at least 15 children in the Diocese of Austin during the 1970s, '80s and '90s either have died or are no longer in ministry, according to a report church officials will send to Catholics in the 25-county region this week.

But the diocese will withhold the priests' names and the places they served, Bishop Gregory Aymond said Monday.

Providing details about the accused, he said, would "not be appropriate."

"Just because we say there is a credible allegation is not a court of law saying it happened," Aymond said, "though in today's world, we take action and go the extra 10 miles and make sure they are not in ministry."

The diocese's report comes as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops releases a national audit today on how individual dioceses have complied with the charter on sex abuse. Bishops crafted the charter in June 2002, months after allegations of clergy sex abuse emerged around the country.

Aymond said diocese officials scoured old files of the 400 priests who have served in the Austin Diocese since its 1947 founding and also conducted interviews of victims. The six priests the diocese says molested minors represent 1.5 percent of the clergy over the past 56 years.

"I would say that one case is one too many, because it's sinful and it's wrong, but I'm also grateful that we do not have more cases," Aymond said.

The Diocese of Dallas released its report last week, saying 48 victims made "credible" accusations against 15 priests and one deacon, or 1.4 percent of the clergy since 1950. Charges included verbal and physical abuse, according to the diocese newspaper, Texas Catholic.

The Austin report also cites the $384,000 the diocese has spent on counseling, legal fees and settlements related to sex abuse cases, and it urges victims to notify the diocese about other incidents.

Luise Dittrich, a spokeswoman for Voice of the Faithful, a 30,000-member lay organization based in Boston, said she applauds the bishops' national efforts to inform Catholics. But failing to release names of priests, specific dates and places, she said, is inconsistent with the promise of reform.

"The whole goal of audits like this and reports is to help restore trust," she said. "It doesn't serve the hierarchy well to say one thing and do the other."

Aymond declined to confirm the names or assignments of any of the six priests. But in the past, he has acknowledged allegations made against several clergy who worked in the diocese.

Late last year, the diocese reached a $250,000 settlement with a Houston man who said former Austin priest Dan Delaney molested him in the 1970s. Other people have since come forward with similar allegations against Delaney.

Other priests, including the Revs. Richard Nowery, Dan Drinan, James O'Connor and Rocco Perrone, now deceased, have been accused of molestation in the past few years. The diocese has confirmed that allegations were made against those priests but declined to say whether they were among the six cited in the report.

Since the national scandal broke in January 2002, many victims have found that the statute of limitations has expired for criminal prosecution of the abuser.

In Texas, 1997 legislation expanded the statute for child abuse. A victim can now pursue criminal charges up to 10 years after his 18th birthday, said Dayna Blazey, assistant district attorney for Travis County. But, she added, in most cases that predate the legislation, the law is not retroactive.

Aymond said he has reported to authorities all allegations against the four priests who are still living. But if the bishop reports the allegation after the statute runs out, there's probably little the authorities can do, Blazey said.

The accused have lost their priestly faculties, Aymond said, and are no longer "a threat to children in the name of the church."

One former priest was never prosecuted, however, even though diocese officials suspected that he molested children before removing him from ministry in 1987. He went on to work for an Episcopal church in Houston without a criminal record to impede him.

Aymond said times have changed.

Before the scandal grabbed national headlines in January 2002, the diocese was quietly finishing a new ethics policy that required criminal background checks on all employees and volunteers and mapped out new boundaries for those working with children, among other initiatives.

Over the past three years, more than 18,000 people in the diocese have received training on preventing and identifying sex abuse. About 14,000 people have undergone criminal record checks.

Aymond said that about 100 people either applying to work or already working in the diocese could not have access to children or other vulnerable people because of criminal backgrounds; 14 were denied any kind of role in the diocese.

"We are in conformity with the (national) charter, and we were in the conformity with the charter before it was written," Aymond said. "But that doesn't mean that our work is over. . . . What we are about is protecting children, working for the healing of the abused and trying to live out the gospel message in a more faithful way."

 
 

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