Victims of Pedophile Priest Share Stories to Prevent More Such Abuse

Latin American Herald Tribune
October 23, 2009

Victims of Pedophile Priest Share Stories to Prevent More Such Abuse

DALLAS Two Hispanic men who were the victims of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest during their adolescence in the early 1980s told their stories of pain and suffering.

The pair are part of a group of six men who filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Dallas over the actions of the late Rev. Thomas Behnke.

The suit was settled last week when the plaintiffs accepted a $4.65 million settlement from the diocese and from Behnke's order, the Discalced Carmelite Friars of the Oklahoma Province of St. Therese.

Behnke, who has been dead for several years, did not then belong to the diocese, but from 1979-1984 he was assigned to St. Mary of Carmel Catholic Church and school in Dallas' main Hispanic neighborhood of Oak Cliff.

According to the complaint, the sexual abuse occurred while Behnke was at St. Mary's and, in the case of one victim, when he worked as a priest in Oklahoma.

Robert Sanchez, now 39, says he was barely 11 when he was first accosted sexually by the priest, who continued to abuse him for more than two years.

"There were a number of us altar boys, but he (the priest) chose only Latinos when he abused us. During all those years, he analyzed the situation and I think he took advantage of our poverty, the Hispanics, and because we had recently come to this country," Sanchez told Efe.

At the time of the abuse, his mother was taking care of his brother who was suffering from various illnesses and required medical attention, Sanchez said.

"So, therefore she registered me at the boarding school at Oak Cliff without knowing that the person whom she considered respectable was the one who was going to abuse her son. Those were years that can't be forgotten either with time or for all the money in the world," he said.

His mother, Consuelo Marquez, criticized the church authorities for having let Behnke's actions go unpunished when the priest was still alive and for hiding his crimes by transferring him from one city to another.

"When my son told me what had happened, I couldn't believe it. As a mother, a person places special trust in a priest because you think that it's the best option, since he's a representative of God on earth," said Marquez, who thought that her son would be well-protected in a Catholic boarding school.

Jaime Cantu is another of the six plaintiffs who also says that he was sexually abused when he was in sixth grade and agrees with Marquez in that he kept quiet about all that happened to him because the priest threatened him.

"When I decided to tell about it, I was already an adult. Remembering the past when tragic things happened to you is not healthy, but it's worth it to prevent it from continuing to happen and it may happen to our sons or to the sons of other people," said Cantu, who is now 41.

Both Cantu and Sanchez issued a call to the victims of sexual abuse to report what happened to them to the authorities.

Their lawyer, Lori Watson, is known to religious authorities from other similar complaints against Behnke that were made long before her clients were the victims of sexual abuse.

"There is a formal complaint from a boy in San Antonio (Texas) that dates from 1959 and then another similar one from 1963. During the '60s and '70s, Behnke organized spiritual retreats to Mexico, Japan, Ireland, Greece and France, all with boys under 15," she said.

The Catholic Diocese of Dallas reiterated in a press release that there were no doubts about Behnke's good reputation when he came to Dallas because he received good references from the Carmelite order. EFE


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