At Jesuit Dallas, healing from sexual abuse must come with full account of facts

Dallas Morning News [Dallas TX]

April 3, 2022

By The Editorial Board

Never again.

A light of hope for healing, restoration and real reform shined a little last week on the announcement that nine Dallas-area men had settled a lawsuit alleging that they were sexually abused as students at Jesuit College Preparatory School Dallas.

The school’s president, Mike Earsing, provided a public statement that he believed the truth of the allegations that date to the 1970s and 1980s. And Mike Pedevilla, the first victim to come forward publicly and bravely, made this moving and hopeful statement: “Now, I can finally begin to heal.”

But even as the hope for healing and genuine expressions of remorse and reform are embraced by Jesuit and the Dallas Catholic Diocese, we are reminded — and should be reminded — of the depths of darkness, lies and institutional corruption that put boys in the path of men who were known to the Jesuit order to abuse children in their care.

Reporter Krista M. Torralva shined the brightest light last week on the way high-ranking members of the Jesuit order shuffled priests who they knew had sexually abused boys from assignment to assignment.

In an exhaustive investigative report, Torralva detailed how Jesuit’s former president, the Rev. Philip Postell, accepted, enabled and covered over such reassignments for a fellow priest, Don Dickerson, who he and other Jesuit leaders knew for years had sexually abused boys.

The long-confidential records Torralva brought to light show the depth of disregard for what could happen to the boys whom Dickerson would seek out. Postell remains a giant figure in Jesuit’s history and an admired member of the Catholic community in Dallas.

But as we think about how to heal and move forward, it’s important to also be aware of the facts of what happened and who was responsible.

Postell, as well as the Jesuit USA Central and Southern Province, declined interviews Torralva requested. But Postell’s words in depositions she brought out in her story say a great deal.

Postell told lawyers for victims he was unaware of the allegations of abuse against five priests at Jesuit. “I am aware of almost nothing,” he said.

That was untrue. Attorney Brent Walker, representing victims, showed Postell a document that made plain Postell was aware of allegations against Dickerson and that Postell had drafted a “fact sheet” about those very allegations.

“I regret it, I’m embarrassed, I am ashamed, I apologize for the harm that it has done,” Postell said at the end of his deposition. So why not tell the truth from the start, we must ask.

The documents brought forth reveal a shocking indifference to those who were and would be abused. They show that Jesuit leaders lied openly and publicly about Dickerson being reassigned for health reasons. They demonstrated that the order had no regard for the impact of sexual abuse.

When Dickerson finally chose to leave the order in 1986 because of “homosexual incidents,” a Jesuit leader, the Rev. Edmundo Rodriguez, described him as “a good man and a zealous apostle.”

These were the practices that put men like Don Dickerson in places where they could abuse children. And these are the patterns that led to the Rev. Patrick Koch arriving at Jesuit despite the school’s knowledge of his “demonstrations of affection” toward boys, according to newly public documents. Koch would become a major figure at Jesuit. After Pedevilla came forward, he was placed on the list of credible abusers.

So yes, the chance to heal, the recompense for wrongs and the insistence on reform are worthy and mark hope and change.

But every fact of what happened here, every corrupt and self-protecting decision, every moment when victims were placed in harm’s way should be remembered. Because this can never happen again.