New Bishop Likely to Keep Files of Accused Priests Sealed

By Darren Barbee
Star-Telegram [Forth Worth TX]
August 10, 2005

FORT WORTH -- Newly ordained Bishop Kevin W. Vann, leader of the Fort Worth Roman Catholic Diocese, signaled during a recent interview that he will continue efforts to keep sealed the files of eight clerics accused of sexual misconduct with children.

A hearing is scheduled Friday in state District Judge Len Wade's Fort Worth courtroom on whether the records should be made public.

Sex abuse victims have said the information in the files could be crucial to their healing. Vann said in a July 27 interview that he had been briefed on the files but had not reviewed them.

"At this point, being brand new here, I'll just work closely with the attorneys and the advice I'm given on all this," said Vann, who was ordained July 13.

Vann declined to say specifically whether he would change course on the release of the files. But he will be out of the country on Friday when Wade hears arguments on the matter.

"I'll just be apprised of whatever I need to do and try to follow the whole matter closely," Vann said.

The Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News filed a court motion this spring seeking the eight priests' names and related documents sealed by a judge as part of a lawsuit against the Fort Worth Diocese.

The lawsuit was filed by two men who allege that they were sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Teczar during the early 1990s in Ranger. Teczar has said he did not abuse the men.

The diocese settled the lawsuit this spring by paying $4.15 million from its insurance and from diocese funds. In addition, the diocese paid $994,000 in legal fees.

Former Bishop Joseph Delaney, who died last month, had declined to release the files of the eight priests accused of sexual misconduct, though in June he released their names.

Four of the priests' names had not been previously disclosed. They were: the Rev. James Reilly, the Rev. James Hanlon, the Rev. John Howlett and the Rev. Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen.

Four of the priests names had already been made public through lawsuits, diocese statements and other means. Those priests are Teczar, the Rev. William Hoover, the Rev. Philip Magaldi and the Rev. Rudolf Renter?a.

In the interview, Vann said he would closely watch the case. Asked whether he would deviate from Delaney's position, Vann said, "I'm too new to comment on what I may or may not do."

Asked whether he would have released the names of the accused priests, Vann said he would not second-guess Delaney.

"You know, I wasn't here. So I can't say what I would or wouldn't have done.

"Bishop Delaney and the diocese has had a long history of responding to crises and responding to these challenges," he said. "Bishop Delaney made the decision. He informed me of it."

"... I wasn't the bishop then," he said.

David Clohessy, the national director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was disconcerted that Vann had only been briefed on the files, but had not reviewed them, two weeks after being ordained.

"After tens of thousands of kids have been molested, one would hope that clergy sex abuse would be at the top of every bishop's agenda, especially a new bishop," Clohessy said.

Fort Worth Voice of the Faithful, a local Catholic group, has long wanted the names of the accused priests released.

But the steering committee for the group appears divided on whether the files should be released to the Star-Telegram and other media, said Lisa Kendzior, a committee member.

"One side believes the press wants the details released because they say they want it for the common good," she said. "On the other hand, with so much Catholic bashing ... I can bet there are sensational stories."

Kendzior said she isn't afraid of the information being released.

"I really want to believe that our bishop's office will be transparent," she said. "They need to be transaparent. ... It's a trust issue."