Bishop Accountability

Dallas Resources – September–November 2003

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Bishop Bars Speaker, So Group Moves Event

By Susan Hogan/Albach
Dallas Morning News
September 20, 2003

Bishop Charles Grahmann has banned a leader of Corpus, a national organization that supports allowing Catholic priests to marry, from speaking next month on property owned by the Dallas Diocese.

The decision comes at a time when some U.S. priests are publicly urging that celibacy be made optional. Last month, more than 160 priests in the Milwaukee Archdiocese signed a petition calling for the requirement to be changed.

Anthony Padovano, who left the active priesthood and married in 1974, was tapped to speak Oct. 4 at a Dallas conference given by Open Window, a group of area laity and clergy. The event has been moved from St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church to White Rock United Methodist Church.

"His views are not all that different from other speakers that we've had in the past, and there was no problem," said Ellen Catterson of Open Window, a 10-year-old organization that says it favors church reform in the spirit of the 1960s Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Grahmann said in a letter to the group's president that Dr. Padovano continues to celebrate Mass and witness marriages without authorization. The bishop also said the Corpus leader doesn't agree with church teaching on a number of moral issues.

"I cannot in conscience and in my responsibility as bishop allow him to have a public forum on church property," the bishop wrote. "I would fail in my obligation to safeguard and promote the teaching and the faith of the Catholic Church."

Dr. Padovano, who lives in Morris Plains, N.J., said in a phone interview that he considers himself to be a Catholic in good standing. He said he celebrates Mass and witnesses marriages, but he declined to say how often.

"It's very irregular," he said.

Dr. Padovano said the only other time he's been banned was in May, when Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit asked that he not speak at a parish there.

Defiant Priest Says Masses Will Go On
Bishop Had Asked Him to Retire After Financial and Sexual Scandals

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
October 23, 2003

An embattled Dallas priest vowed Wednesday to continue celebrating Mass in defiance of Catholic Bishop Charles Grahmann and lambasted top diocesan representatives as "the three stooges."

"They can't strip me of everything," the Rev. Justin Lucio said. "Only God can do that, and they're not God."

The bishop ended Father Lucio's monthly stipend and asked him to retire after The Dallas Morning News reported this year on financial and sexual scandals involving the priest, diocesan spokesman Bronson Havard revealed. He declined to comment on any of Father Lucio's statements or to discuss how the diocese might respond to the disobedience.

Father Lucio has been leading Sunday worship recently at Casita Maria, an immigration-counseling center for Latinos that he founded after Bishop Grahmann's predecessor removed him from parish work in the late 1980s. The priest is executive director of the Oak Cliff charity, which receives no diocesan funds.

Casita's future remains in doubt because of federal immigration and tax inquiries begun in response to The News' reports, which showed that the charity had collected millions from poor clients and spent large sums to benefit Father Lucio and his associates.

Immigration and IRS officials declined to comment on the status of their investigations.

The Texas attorney general also investigated and required Casita to make a series of reforms to avoid litigation that could shut down the agency. State and charity officials said most of the reforms are in place, including Father Lucio's resignation from the board of directors and a plan for him and other employees to repay Casita funds they spent for their own benefit or borrowed interest-free.

State officials said that the improprieties they found were largely the result of ignorance. Father Lucio has denied all wrongdoing and described himself as a victim of a plot to destroy Casita.

This week, he and board president Gonzalo Aguilera announced plans to expand the agency's services. They will raise the necessary money, they said, by selling their offices and a DeSoto house in which Father Lucio has lived virtually rent-free.

Father Lucio, who undergoes regular kidney dialysis and has other medical problems, said Bishop Grahmann cut him off financially "at the time I needed it the most." He said he is spending $ 2,000 a month on health care beyond what Casita's insurance covers.

"That is the inhumanity of the church," he said. "They simply don't care."

Casita officials would not reveal the value of the priest's total compensation from the charity. State law governing nonprofits requires most of them to make such basic financial information public upon request.

In its deal with the attorney general, Casita agreed to follow the nonprofit law. But its attorney, Frank Sommerville, now says that his client is exempt from the public-disclosure provision because it takes in so little in the way of contributions.

Officials in the attorney general's office said that point is debatable and that they will not require Casita to comply with the public-disclosure provision.

In recent years, Casita's tax returns have shown that it relies almost entirely on client fees and receives virtually no donations. Yet to win nonprofit status from the IRS and to gain certification to operate from immigration authorities, Casita promised to offer services for little or no charge and to raise outside funds.

Father Lucio said that Bishop Grahmann would not meet with him to discuss retirement benefits and other issues but instead had delegated these matters to his "three stooges" - Mary Edlund, the diocesan chancellor; the Rev. Glenn "Duffy" Gardner, vicar general; and Dennis Sullivan, a diocesan attorney. He referred to Ms. Edlund as "cutthroat" and said Bishop Grahmann never meets with priests he considers "the lower ding-a-lings."

Father Lucio said he had never been told not to celebrate Mass, but Mr. Havard has said the bishop limited his activities to "the civic matters of immigrants" more than a decade ago.

That restriction came after a series of events that began with allegations from two young Mexican men that Father Lucio had pressured them to have sex. The priest was removed from an Oak Cliff parish and sued the parish leader who had first reported the men's allegations to diocese leaders.

Church officials said they could not substantiate the allegations and briefly returned Father Lucio to part-time parish work, then limited him to nonclerical work at Casita after he sometimes failed to show up for Mass.

Father Lucio dropped his lawsuit after testifying, in a pretrial deposition, that he sometimes handled parishioners' genitals when they had health concerns. At a news conference announcing Casita's expansion plans, he said he had been referring to what he called Hispanics' propensity to show off surgical scars in the "genital area."

To demonstrate how he defined "genital area," he approached a reporter, lifted up his full-length black robe and pushed down sweat pants far enough to reveal what appeared to be a scar on his lower abdomen.

[Photo Captions: A sign near the door of Oak Cliff's Casita Maria says, "Father Lucio will be celebrating Mass every Sunday at 11 a.m." 2. Justin Lucio]

Charity Official Resigns
Reformer at Ministry Cites Financial Abuses, Says Priest Won't Yield

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
November 22, 2003

The leader of reform efforts at a Dallas priest's scandal-plagued charity has given up, saying that the Rev. Justin Lucio refused to surrender power to board members and that financial abuses were continuing.

Gonzalo Aguilera also called for a crackdown by the Texas attorney general's office, which investigated the charity several months ago and let it keep operating in return for promises that it would make several changes.

"They really need to take a close look," said Mr. Aguilera, who resigned a few days ago as president of Casita Maria, an immigration-counseling service in Oak Cliff. "There are so many, so many, so many things wrong that I said, 'I don't want to be a part of this.' "

Father Lucio, Casita's executive director, declined to comment. So did his religious superiors, although, on a separate front, the Dallas Catholic Diocese newspaper said Father Lucio "is defying church law and his bishop" by celebrating Mass at Casita. "He is no longer considered a priest in good standing."

Diocese spokesman Bronson Havard has stressed that the suspended priest and Casita receive no money from the diocese.

The attorney general investigated Casita earlier this year in response to Dallas Morning News reports showing that the agency had collected millions from its poor Latino clients while spending large sums to benefit Father Lucio and his associates. State investigators concluded that "there have been several instances of impropriety" but blamed them largely on ignorance.

Attorney General Greg Abbott could sue to shut down Casita if he decided that it was not making promised changes. His spokesman Tom Kelley said on Friday that investigators "would appreciate talking to anyone who might have information about the charity."

The News' reports also prompted Internal Revenue Service and immigration investigations. Federal regulators have declined to comment on the status of those cases.

Financial questions

Mr. Aguilera said he recently discovered that the wife of Casita's vice president had been put on the payroll despite conflict-of-interest concerns raised during the attorney general's investigation.

Raquél Lincón was making more per hour than some Casita office employees, Mr. Aguilera said, yet her only job was cleaning the priest's DeSoto home. The charity owns that house and let Father Lucio and a young man described as a Casita maintenance worker live there virtually rent-free, The News reported in January. The house has since been put up for sale.

"They've got a clan," said Mr. Aguilera. "There has to be a better way to spend money."

Ms. Lincón's husband, José Lincón, responded by saying, "I don't know anything" and "The truth will prevail." He referred calls to Casita's attorney, Frank Sommerville, who declined to comment on Mr. Aguilera's statements.

Ms. Lincón did not respond to a telephone message.

Mr. Aguilera also said Casita's No. 2 employee, Joe Granados, has failed to fully pay for a Rolex watch that he took from the charity. "It's not near what the amount is supposed to be," he said.

Mr. Granados did not respond to a message left with his wife.

There are other irregularities, Mr. Aguilera said, but he declined to give details.

Turmoil on the board

At least one other member of Casita's six-member board, Juan Manuel Campos, also quit last week. He and another board member did not respond to telephone messages, while two others could not be reached for comment.

The board had already turned over completely since The News published its January reports. The attorney general required that Father Lucio and Mr. Granados no longer serve on the agency's board and that they repay $23,000 in charity funds spent "primarily for the benefit" of themselves.

Casita's new board also agreed to quit lending money, collect on interest-free loans made to staff, closely monitor spending, restrict use of corporate credit cards and "reassess the mission-relevance of all high-value assets."

Adelfa Callejo, a lawyer and civil-rights activist who once supported Father Lucio, said she did not blame Mr. Aguilera for quitting. He is widely respected as a former Spanish-language television news anchor but had not understood the long history of problems at Casita, she said.

"Father Lucio painted him a picture that [The Dallas Morning News] were the bad guys," Ms. Callejo said. She has said that she cut ties with the priest several years ago after hearing complaints about Casita staff members charging high fees and driving expensive cars.

At least three other Dallas lawyers have broken with Father Lucio over the years, including Casita co-founder Ernesto Maldonado and former board members George Rodriguez and Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez.

Diocesan leaders have barred Father Lucio from parish duty for most of the last 15 years, at least initially because of allegations that he pressured two young immigrant men for sex. He denied wrongdoing, and the diocese eventually called the allegations unsubstantiated.

The accusations led Father Lucio to sue a layman who told diocesan leaders about the allegations. In a deposition taken before he dropped the case, the priest testified that he sometimes handled the genitals of parishioners who had health concerns.


Bishop Accountability © 2003