Files on Accused Priests Sought

By Darren Barbee
Star Telegram [Fort Worth TX]
June 26, 2005

FORT WORTH - He woke up groggy, his two front teeth shattered, blood on his bathroom floor.

He cannot remember what pills he took trying to end his life last year. He had attempted suicide two other times as well, desperate and angry about being abused by Monsignor James Reilly when he was 11, he said.

"It was just this feeling that I was alone, that I was the only one, not being sure there were others," said the 42-year-old Arlington man, who asked not to be named.

Now he feels twice betrayed by the Fort Worth Roman Catholic Diocese because officials waited three years to tell him that at least three other men had accused Reilly of sexual abuse.

Reilly was one of eight priests the diocese named this month as having been accused of sexually abusing children. But releasing only the names has raised more questions than it answered, victims and their advocates say. The diocese continues to withhold information such as how many times each clergyman has been accused and whether the allegations have been substantiated.

But others, including priests, are concerned that releasing the files of the accused men would only cause more pain.

One woman who says she was a victim said that she was treated honorably and that she trusts the diocese to tell the truth.

But conflicting information about the priest she accused, the Rev. Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen, highlights the confusion after the release of the names.

She is among several accusers who have contacted the Star-Telegram since the names were released June 10.

Judy Locke, victim assistance coordinator for the diocese, said in an e-mail that the diocese's "first concern is to listen to the victims. Anything they have to say will be listened to and responded to in the context of our regular review process."

Fort Worth Diocese officials are fighting in court to keep details about the allegations secret.

In an attempt to gain access to the accused priests' files, the Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News have intervened in a clergy abuse lawsuit the diocese settled this year for $4.15 million.

One priest's files were made public as part of the lawsuit, but the files of the other seven were sealed by a judge's order.

A hearing on whether the files must be released is scheduled for Wednesday in state District Judge Len Wade's Fort Worth courtroom.

Three of the priests, including Reilly, are dead. Of the remaining five, only Tu, a Dominican order priest, is still in active ministry.

Tu was a priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Arlington from 1980 to 1994. In 1993, he was accused of sexually abusing two minor girls in 1980 in Fort Worth.

When Bishop Joseph Delaney named the priests, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, where Tu works, and the Dominican order released statements saying that Tu had been cleared of abusing minors. A regional spokeswoman for the Dominican order, Regina Wedig, said in a telephone interview from Louisiana that the order did not report the abuse allegations to police.

The statements did not mention claims by Janet Buchanan, who contacted the Star-Telegram and said Tu sexually abused her when she was in her early 20s. Buchanan, an administrator at a Catholic hospital in Oregon, said another woman complained about Tu in the early 1990s.

Buchanan, a former Benedictine nun, said Tu touched her inappropriately when she sought him out for spiritual advice.

She went public with her allegations after reading the Dominican and archdiocese statements that said Tu had been cleared.

"I can only hope that the individuals who made them were simply misinformed," she said. "They're more than misleading. They're completely inaccurate."

Buchanan said she spoke with Delaney about her allegations in 1993.

She provided a copy of a March 1994 letter from Delaney saying that Tu "may have been prone to act inappropriately" and that he would be reassigned to a Houston Dominican community "with the support of several other of his brothers."

Tu works as an associate pastor at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Houston. A woman who answered the phone at the church referred questions to Wedig.

Buchanan credits Delaney's response with helping her to heal.

"He said, 'I believe you,' " Buchanan said.

She also said that Delaney has been at the forefront of dealing with the sex abuse crisis. He invited her to take part in a workshop on the matter in 1994.

"I understand those other victims being angry," she said. "They were so harmed by individuals from my church. But I guess I stand solidly in the middle. I saw the bishop grapple with this.

"I believe he was one of the first bishops in the country to do something proactive about sexual abuse," she said. "My own experiences with him were so positive."

'Hiding the truth'?

Through court records and information from accusers, the Star-Telegram has learned details about some of the priests identified by the diocese.

Reilly had been accused of abusing four boys when his name was released by the diocese, according to an e-mail exchange between Locke, the victim assistance coordinator for the diocese, and the Arlington man who said Reilly abused him.

Reilly, whose last assignment in the diocese was at St. Maria Goretti in Arlington, died in 1999 from complications of Alzheimer's.

The Rev. John Howlett, a member of the Pallottine religious order, had his authority to function as a priest removed, but he remains a clergyman, according to court documents. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Howlett cannot have contact with the public without being accompanied by another member of the Pallottine society, the records state.

The Rev. James Hanlon died Feb. 17, 1990, at age 38, while living in Arlington. Years of alcohol abuse contributed to his death, according to his death certificate.

None of the priests is believed to have been convicted of sexual abuse, a diocese attorney said during a June 17 hearing.

In February 2004, the diocese said that 28 accusations have been made against the eight priests in the Fort Worth Diocese since it was founded in 1969.

It is not clear how many of the allegations were referred to law enforcement. Since at least 1993, the Fort Worth Diocese sexual misconduct policy has required reporting sexual abuse of children to law enforcement.

One priest, the Rev. Thomas Teczar, faces sexual assault charges in Eastland County. This year, the diocese settled a $4.15 million lawsuit with two men who said Teczar abused them in Ranger. Teczar, who lives in Dudley, Mass., has said he did not abuse them.

The names of three other priests had previously been made public through documents or diocese statements. They are the Rev. William Hoover, the Rev. Philip Magaldi and the Rev. Rudolf Renteria.

David Clohessy, the national director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said victims and Catholics need to know the extent of the abuse and the diocese's responses.

Without all the information, Clohessy said, parishioners might be led to believe that a priest who faced multiple accusations was accused of a one-time indiscretion.

"If ... the bishop has more allegations, and information he doesn't share with them, he continues to be complicit in hiding the truth and minimizing the crime," he said.

The Rev. Tim Thompson of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in North Richland Hills worked alongside Reilly in the early 1980s. He also knew Hanlon from seminary and was acquainted with Tu. He said he knew nothing of the allegations against the men.

Thompson said he isn't sure what the public would gain by learning the contents of the priests' files.

And he has concerns about where such releases of information could lead.

"Nobody should be protected from accountability from wrong behavior," Thompson said.

But anyone can be accused of anything, he said.

"We're saying ... since they're accused they don't have any privacy.

"It makes me, as a priest, feel very vulnerable," he said. "We have a court system that is supposed to handle criminal activity."

But the Arlington man who said he was abused by Reilly said that knowing more about other accusations would help him.

"If they're not protecting any of the victims -- their names are blacked out anyway -- who are they protecting?" he said.