Judge Agrees to Unseal Records of Priests in Sex-Abuse Cases

The Associated Press, carried in Fort Worth Star-Telegram
February 24, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas - A Tarrant County judge has agreed to release some church documents concerning six priests accused of sexual abuse.

State District Judge Len Wade said Thursday that he will first review the 600 pages of records to remove information identifying the accusers and church lay workers. He also said he will withhold information related to the priests' health and finances.

The records of the Fort Worth Roman Catholic Diocese were sealed last year as part of a lawsuit. In that suit, two men accused the Rev. Thomas Teczar of abusing them in Ranger when they were boys in the 1990s. The diocese settled the case last year for $4.15 million, but denied any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, and Teczar continues to assert his innocence.

The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram requested that the diocesan records be unsealed. They argued that the records were public because the diocese had surrendered them during the Teczar case.

Paul Watler, an attorney for the newspapers, said the judge's decision was an important ruling "in favor of public disclosure."

"These are serious cases involving priest sex abuse that have been shrouded in secrecy for many years, and now, at least in part, that shroud of secrecy will finally be lifted," Watler said.

Diocesan attorney Mark Hatten would not comment on the judge's ruling. However, he said during the Thursday hearing that the diocese had proactively dealt with sex abuse by investigating allegations. The diocese has trained at least 12,000 people to identify and report suspected sexual abuse since 2000, he said.

"There is no evidence the newspapers have provided to show there is a future threat," Hatten said.

The records involve six priests who have either died, are in an assisted-living center or are retired and no longer pose any threat to the public, said Roland Johnson, an attorney for the six priests and their estates.

In arguing to keep the records sealed, Johnson said that news coverage has already given the public more information than is available on registered sex offenders.

"Anything that needs to be in the public is already out," he said.

Wade did not decide how to handle the records of the Rev. Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen, the only one of the accused priests still actively involved in the ministry.

Tu, who works in the Galveston-Houston Roman Catholic Archdiocese, has been accused of having inappropriate contact with several girls and young women while working in Arlington in the 1970s and 1980s.

His accusers filed sworn statements with Wade's court in support of unsealing the records.

Tu's attorney, H. Allen Pennington Jr., said two girls involved in the case said the priest kissed them but they never accused him of sexual abuse. An internal investigation concluded that he did not abuse the girls.

Pennington said Tu's Houston congregation has already been told about the allegations of abuse.

The records concern three priests who have died: the Revs. William Hoover, James Hanlon and James Reilly.

The other three are the Revs. John Howlett, Rudolf Renteria and Philip Magaldi.


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