Child Protection Office Releases Findings on Catholic Church

By Shanna Sissom
Midland Reporter-Telegram
January 10, 2004

"I'd like to think the door of secrecy and silence has been opened and it's a whole new ball game." - San Angelo Diocese Bishop Michael Pfeifer

As the nation's Roman Catholic bishops gathered for their annual week of prayer Tuesday, San Angelo Diocese Bishop Michael Pfeifer was among those leaders who learned his district was in full compliance with a national initiative aimed at protecting children from future sexual abuse by priests.

Following decades of scandal involving cover-ups and concealment of pedophilia among some in the priesthood, Pfeifer said bishops are "repentant" and "humbled."

"I'd like to think the door of secrecy and silence has been opened and it's a whole new ball game," Pfeifer said in a telephone interview from the San Antonio summit. "It's humbling, it has hurt victims and the church in many ways, but I think it's going to make us a better church."

Nationwide, a total of 24 dioceses failed to meet standards set forth by the 2002 charter overseen by the Office of Child and Youth Protection, comprised of church outsiders and FBI agents charged with examining church policy in terms of handling abuse allegations and protecting Catholic children.

"They're going to be called to accountability," Pfeifer said of those failing to comply.

None of the non-compliant dioceses are in Texas, according to an Associated Press report.

Like many of his colleagues, Pfeifer's diocese, encompassing 29 west and central Texas counties containing 49 parishes, has been hit by scandal.

Just last year, a Colorado City priest hanged himself days after telling Pfeifer he had been accused of molesting a child. Pfeifer said the Rev. David Espitia, 49, had contended he was innocent before he was found hanging at his residence.

Pfeifer removed former Big Lake priest Miguel Esquivel, 50, from ministry in 2002 when a young woman reported that he molested her as a teenager back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

And a former Midland priest - Alfredo Prado - was sent to a pedophile treatment center by the Oblate Fathers of Texas amid allegations of sexual abuse, according to a Catholic News Agency report.

Prado's mandatory treatment occurred months after leaving his 11-month tenure at Our Lady of Guadeloupe Catholic Church, although the priest had ministered long-term in San Antonio before his brief time here.

Pfeifer said the national scandal had forced bishops to "look at the truth."

"Mistakes were made and people were hurt," the bishop remarked.

Pfeifer said the new policies, which are aimed at promoting healing, effectively responding to abuse allegations and ensuring accountability, were time consuming but necessary.

"It's very good, it's a sign we want to be accountable and responsible."

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