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  Bishops Detail Clergy Abuse
Questions Arise As to Why a Priest at a South Side Catholic School Wasn't Removed until Recently

By J. Michael Parker
San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
February 27, 2004

About 4 percent of the estimated 110,000 priests who were in the ministry nationwide from 1950-2002 were accused of sexual abuse of minors, according to a national report being released today.

But victim advocates and parents at a South Side Catholic school say talking about past problems won't fix a current one: Why did church officials wait until Feb. 20 to remove an accused priest when the archdiocese had included him in a list of 20 problem priests submitted to U.S. Conference of Bishops last fall?

The discrepancy came to light Thursday, when the archdiocese was talking to reporters about the information to be released today.

Today's national report will show 10,667 abuse claims against 4,392 priests nationwide, according to the Associated Press. Of those, claims by 6,700 accusers were substantiated; 3,300 weren't investigated because the accused were dead.***SEE CORRECTION***

The information is being provided to the public because of a charter adopted in June 2002 by the U.S. Catholic bishops mandating uniform policies in every U.S. diocese for handling complaints about sexual abuse of minors and for providing a safe environment.

Some dioceses have released the required information earlier; San Antonio said Jan. 6 it had handled allegations by 67 victims against 20 priests out of the total of 800 priests who have ministered in the archdiocese between 1950-2002.

Unknown to parishioners, those 20 local priests included Father Jose Aviles, 45, a priest in the archdiocese since 1990 and pastor of St. Joseph's South San Parish since June 2003.

An archdiocese spokesman said Aviles was included in the listing because there was an allegation filed against him; conference officials were asking about all allegations, not just substantiated ones.

Aviles wasn't removed until last Friday. Father Jimmy Drennan, head of the archdiocese's priest personnel board, read a letter from Archbishop Patrick Flores to parishioners at all Masses on Saturday and Sunday.

The allegation involved an incident with a minor teenager in 1985 shortly before Aviles entered Assumption Seminary to study for the priesthood.

Ordained in June 1990, Aviles arrived at St. Joseph's as pastor in June.

The allegation was made in August, said Judy Perillo, director of the archdiocese office of victims assistance and safe environment.

Perillo and Dale Hoyt, superintendent for archdiocese schools, said Thursday they agree with concerned parents that not advising parishioners and school officials about Aviles earlier was wrong.

Hoyt was not informed of the allegation until Principal Margaret Schlueter reached him Sunday night after hearing about the letter read by Drennan.

"They knew about Father Joe's past and went against their own rules," John Garza, a school parent at St. Joseph's South San Parish, said in an e-mail to the San Antonio Express-News.

Garza had taken his 7-year-old daughter to Aviles for counseling.

"I can't believe they wouldn't remove (Aviles)," said Barbara Garcia Boehland, director of the San Antonio chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "They certainly haven't taken care of children."

No parents in the parish have reported problems with Aviles.

"He did a great job spiritually, but I'm angry that I almost left my daughter alone with him, not knowing of the (allegation) against him," Garza said.

Deacon Pat Rodgers, the archdiocese's director of communications, said Aviles couldn't be removed nor the allegation discussed until there was sufficient clarity about the facts of the case to make a decision. One issue was whether canon law even covered Aviles' case, because the assault is alleged to have occurred before he was a priest.

"Children are always our first priority," Rodgers said Thursday. "We're not going to be irresponsible, but it's important for the whole process that's in place to be carried through to its conclusion."

Perillo was having none of it.

"A mistake has been made," Perillo said flatly, referring to delaying the reporting of the allegation against Aviles. "We're not making any excuses."

CORRECTION-DATE: February 28, 2004

CORRECTION:

Because of incorrect information supplied by the Archdiocese of San Antonio, this article misstated the total number of priests who have ministered in the archdiocese from 1950 to 2002 and the number of alleged cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the same time frame. There were 2,113 priests during that time, with 58 reports of abuse against 20 priests.

Contact: J. Michael Parker jparker@express-news.net

 
 

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