Vanishing Dallas priest's alleged sex abuse leaves a church and city with questions that may never be answered
By David Tarrant and Juleita Chiquillo
The disgraced priest Edmundo Paredes disappeared from Dallas six months ago.
He left behind a mystery much deeper than where he is today.
Paredes leaves questions about who he truly was, what he did to the people he was supposed to serve and what harm he caused, not only to his alleged victims but to a Catholic diocese in Dallas already stained by a sexual abuse scandal stretching back more than two decades.
(Catholic Diocese of Dallas)
The fear now is that the questions will never be fully and publicly answered. Police are not investigating the sexual abuse allegations that surfaced this year against the longtime pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in north Oak Cliff. Paredes’ accusers are not talking — not to police and not to the media, anyway.
Earlier this summer, the Dallas diocese quietly reached a financial settlement with the three male accusers, the details of which are confidential.
Bishop Edward Burns, in an exclusive interview with The Dallas Morning News, said the church did not seek confidentiality agreements with the alleged victims and that they are free to speak.
He urged them, he said, to go to police with their allegations.
“We can’t force people to talk to the police. We strongly urged them,” Burns said. “They did not want to be identified in the community.”
A lawyer who represented the men confirmed that his clients did not want to speak about the case. The lawyer, Sergio Aleman, said his clients also ordered him not to speak to the media about the case.
Church officials began investigating Paredes over a year ago when they discovered missing funds at St. Cecilia.
In February, while the diocese continued to investigate the parish finances, officials received allegations of criminal sexual acts by Paredes, specifically that he had molested three boys in their mid-teens more than a decade but less than 20 years ago. Burns said the abuse allegations were forwarded to police.
Around this time, the diocese lost touch with the priest, who officials believed was living in a house he once co-owned with a brother in Garland.
The diocese said it sent certified letters to Paredes and then went to his house but could not find him.
He had vanished.
From the Philippines
Born on Nov. 7, 1948, Edmundo Paredes grew up in the Philippines, the middle of five brothers. He studied finance in college and worked a few years in financial services, said his older brother, Jose Paredes, who lives in the Dallas area and works in information technology.
The extended family was politically well-connected, Jose Paredes said. One relative, Quintín Paredes, was a famous senator who also held other government positions before and after World War II.
“We had politicians, lawyers, judges — a lot of professionals,” Jose Paredes said.
The family was surprised when Edmundo decided to enter the priesthood.
“I don’t remember any cousins or anyone from the family in the priesthood,” Jose Paredes said.
Edmundo entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving in his early 30s and was ordained in June 1985. Five years later, he was named pastor of St. Cecilia.
He would serve there for 27 years, his name, “Father Ed,” becoming almost symbolic of the church itself.
At St. Cecilia, Paredes baptized the babies, gave children their first Holy Communion and confirmed young people in their faith. He officiated weddings and funerals.
In a large Hispanic neighborhood, the church was a kind of community center, offering various ministries, including after-school programs and sports activities.
Paredes’ flock had easy access to him, even outside of Mass. He would bless the food before church fundraisers and waive catechism fees for families that couldn’t afford them, parishioners said.
In May 2007, he offered his blessing to thousands of people who gathered outside his church to march for immigration reform.
A few months later, on a summer night, a lightning bolt struck St. Cecilia. The fire spread quickly through the sanctuary and destroyed the church.
The disaster followed Paredes' loss of his mother, whose funeral Mass was the last service to be performed before the fire.
Edmundo Paredes (center left) and then-Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell (center right) surveyed the damage after a five-alarm fire destroyed St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Oak Cliff in August 2007.
(DMN File Photo)
Parishioners waited four years for the new church, slowly helping to raise the millions of dollars needed. Paredes was there in 2011 when the doors opened to a more contemporary-style building with cream-colored brick.
In mid-2017, Paredes let people know that he would be leaving St. Cecilia.
Parishioners were not terribly surprised. He was having health problems, and he had been in and out of the hospital. He looked pale.
The beginning of the end
In the summer of 2017, the diocese announced it was transferring Paredes to another parish, easing him toward retirement. Children from St. Cecilia Catholic School gathered for a Mass to celebrate the departure of Father Ed.
But the move never happened.
In June 2017, Paredes was quietly suspended for what the diocese said were financial irregularities. When confronted that summer, he quickly admitted to mismanaging funds, according to church officials, but the allegations soon became more serious.
Diocese officials now believe Paredes was taking cash after passing the basket during baptisms, weddings, quinceañeras and other so-called unscheduled collections.
But Burns said he can’t rule out the possibility that Paredes also took funds from official Sunday collections.
“I’ve never said that it did not happen from Sunday collections because all along my concern has been, it’s been cash,” Burns said.
The fact that only cash was missing from the collections “brings about the inability to pinpoint amounts,” Burns said.
Bishop Edward Burns addressed reporters's questions about Edmundo Paredes during a press conference at St. Cecilia Catholic Church on Aug. 19.
(Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor)
Church officials believe the priest helped some poor families pay rent and utility bills but allege he also spent the money on himself.
As the investigation into the missing funds continued, the diocese realized that the problem was “more than just fiscal mismanagement or financial irregularities,” Burns said. “We recognized that it was theft.”
Church officials estimate the priest stole at least $60,000 to $80,000 in cash. But the diocese did not report the alleged theft to police.
“We were talking to him about restitution,” Burns said. “That’s very much our responsibility. Indeed, we were moving very intentionally toward acquiring restitution.”
The diocese continued to dig into the church’s financial troubles when it got even more devastating news.
Sexual abuse allegations
In February, the diocese learned of allegations of sexual abuse of boys.
Burns declined to detail the molestation allegations against Paredes or how they surfaced. He said the diocese brought in independent investigators and found the allegations credible.
“We used opportunities to be sure and certain that indeed what we believed to be credible was indeed true,” the bishop said.
Church officials said they contacted police immediately.
Paredes denied the alleged sexual abuse before he went missing, according to the diocese.
His older brother Jose Paredes said the family was “shaken” by the church’s accusations, which he said he learned in August at the same time as the parish.
“I just don’t believe it,” Jose Paredes said, adding that his brother never mentioned the church’s investigations to him.
After Edmundo Paredes left St. Cecilia, he gave his brother power of attorney to handle his affairs because of his ongoing health problems, Jose Paredes said.
Edmundo Paredes had been seeing doctors for diabetes and heart problems, his brother said.
“He’s not very healthy,” Jose Paredes said.
A long line wound around St. Cecilia Catholic Church before the start of 3 p.m. Mass for the dedication of the new building on Nov. 20, 2011.
(Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer)
Olegario Estrada, the priest’s attorney, did not return repeated messages from The News.
According to the diocese, officials gave Dallas police the names of the priest and the three men who accused him.
The Dallas Police Department said in a statement that no “sexual abuse/sexual assault victims” came forward to report an offense.
“We are encouraging anyone who may have been a victim to come forward and contact the Dallas Police Department,” the statement reads.
Speaking generally, Deputy Chief Thomas Castro said that when someone reports a crime and police are aware that the alleged victim has an attorney, detectives will reach out to the attorney and ask if his or her client wants to proceed with a criminal investigation.
Police officials declined to comment on this particular case.
Pete Schulte, a Dallas defense attorney and a former cop, said police generally attempt to talk to victims when a third party reports a crime.
However, if the victim declines to cooperate or recants a statement, it’s difficult if not impossible for police to proceed with an investigation, especially if there is no other evidence to back the allegation, Schulte said.
“Law enforcement can only do so much to compel that,” he said.
Texas law protects alleged sexual assault victims’ names on records and in court proceedings, but a person’s reluctance to speak out may have to do with more than privacy, Schulte said. For example, if the victim sought treatment or counseling, he or she may wish to avoid reliving the trauma.
As a police detective, “I would ask, and I would be very sensitive to that,” Schulte said. “But I would say, ‘Would it help for you to have closure if this person who allegedly did this to you was prosecuted?’”
Healing a church
On a recent Friday morning, Burns stood in the vestibule of St. Cecilia, talking to students, parents and teachers before the school day began. He met with them in small groups of twos and threes, responding personally to their anger and sadness.
Later, Burns said church officials need to rebuild trust and address questions that remain unanswered in the case.
“People are hurt,” he said. “They’re disappointed. They’re dismayed. They’re just wounded by this.”
The bishop’s visit was one of several trips he made to St. Cecilia in August, when he stood before the parish to share the allegations against Paredes.
He said he had not brought up the matter earlier to respect the victims’ request to keep the allegations private. But a report about abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania prompted him to inform the parish.
The recent spate of sex abuse scandals prompted Burns to announce Thursday he was petitioning Pope Francis to convene a meeting of Catholic clergy at the Vatican — called an extraordinary synod — to address the issue.
Some parishioners still have questions about St. Cecilia’s coffers. And the victim advocacy group SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — criticized Burns for not telling churchgoers about the sexual abuse complaints sooner.
Edmundo Paredes celebrated Mass on June 5, 2008, in a trailer after the fire that destroyed St. Cecilia Catholic Church a year earlier.
(DMN File Photo)
At a recent Wednesday evening church service, several parishioners said they were still trying to work through the shock and sadness of the sex abuse scandal.
“Sometimes I hear it happens somewhere else and it hurts,” said María Gonzalez, who’s been going to St. Cecilia for two decades. “But when it happens to your own parish, your own church, it really hurts.”
José and Carmen Tellez, a married couple and longtime members of the choir, said they found comfort in Burns’ visits.
“What the bishop did is beneficial,” José Tellez said Wednesday evening as he sat by the parish soccer field with other families. “He’s showing his face.”
Behind him, inside the church, dozens of people lifted their hands in worship.
Carmen Tellez said she was praying for all priests, including Paredes. The couple explained that it was hard to reconcile the allegations with the pastor they knew, who appeared to be a good man and a good steward of the church.
If Paredes did something wrong, he’ll have to answer for it, José Tellez said.
“Let’s say he avoids man’s law,” he added. “He can’t avoid God’s.”
Staff writer Naomi Martin contributed to this report.
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