Catholic Sex Abuse Review Board Members Meet, Get Acquainted

By Shanna Sissom
August 22, 2002

"We came up with the fact we need to take our name quite literally, we are the review board," said Midland delegate Dr. Joseph Rhode, who explained that the board will not try to take on the role of police detectives but rather to hear allegations and make recommendations.

"We can't defrock a priest," Rhode said and referenced the criminal nature of such abuse in addition to the moral and behavioral issues.

Bishop Michael Pfeifer said board members, many of whom had never met before the San Angelo meeting, seemed to quickly develop a good rapport.

"They discussed, if a case arrived, how they would handle that," Pfeifer said.

When asked if there were any pending cases before the board, Pfeifer replied "No, thank God."

The bishop also briefed the board on a former San Angelo Diocese priest, Rev. Miguel Esquievel, who is accused of a sexual assault in Big Lake years ago. He has since been expelled from the ministry.

The church is also a defendant in civil litigation in that case.

One other such San Angelo Diocese case involves a seminary candidate from Spain, Agusti Huerres, who has since returned to his home country, and Pfeifer has warned church officials there of the allegations against him. That incident has also subjected the church to civil litigation

The bishop said the church will also perform background checks on every full-time employee and major volunteer in the diocese.

"It will include even the janitors and secretaries," Pfeifer said.

"We are concerned about the safety and protection of our children, in providing them with a safe environment," he added.

In the past, some, but not all new employees, were subject to criminal background checks.

The cost for such research will be only about $3 or $4 per person, he said.

The board also discussed hiring a consulting firm to train one person from each church within the diocese to be a parish contact person between the church and board.

Rhode said he was impressed with board members and felt the group compatible.

"I was impressed," Rhode said.

Next week, the bishop will be back in Midland to hold a meeting with Catholics on this end of the diocese, where he will hold what he is calling a "town meeting" at St. Stephen's Catholic Church. There, he will answer questions and seek input from the public on the issue of sex abuse within the Catholic Church.

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