Judge to Open Church Records

By Brooks Egerton
WFAA [Fort Worth TX]
February 24, 2006

A Tarrant County judge agreed Thursday to unseal some Fort Worth Catholic Diocese records about several priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children.

State District Judge Len Wade acted at the request of The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The newspapers argued that the records were public because the diocese had surrendered them during litigation with alleged victims of one priest.

Judge Wade oversaw that litigation which ended last year with a $4.15 million settlement and had sealed the records at the diocese's request.

Church representatives didn't respond to questions about Thursday's decision, although the judge indicated that he expected an appeal. Releasing the records would violate the priests' privacy rights and chill the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion, church attorneys have argued.

Paul Watler, the lead lawyer for the newspapers, praised the judge's decision as "an important ruling in favor of the public's right to know."

"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," he said.

Judge Wade's order does not cover records about the one accused priest who worked in Fort Worth and is still in ministry. The judge postponed a decision about the Rev. Joseph Tu after an attorney for the clergyman argued that the records don't contain allegations of sexual abuse.

The attorney, H. Allen Pennington Jr., said the priest's actions were limited to the kissing of two young sisters in 1980.

Janet Buchanan, who knew the sisters, has told The News that they accused Father Tu of putting them on his lap, hugging them and kissing them on the mouth. She said the girls were in elementary school at the time.

The two complained to the diocese in 1993, according to church news releases, and have not spoken publicly about the matter. Nor has Father Tu, who now works in the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese.

Sworn statements

It isn't clear whether the Tu records include material about four other women who have accused him of molesting them. All four filed sworn statements with Judge Wade's court and supported the newspapers' push to unseal records. The four are:

A woman who says he fondled her breasts in 1977, when she was 13 or 14. She says her mother complained then to another priest, prompting church officials to send Father Tu to Iowa. Diocesan records confirm that the priest went there in 1977 on "study leave."

Ms. Buchanan and another woman who say he kissed, hugged and groped them in the 1980s, when they were young women. They complained to the church in the early 1990s, records show.

One woman who alleges that Father Tu groped her breasts in 1977, when she was 21. She first complained last year.

Treatment program

Father Tu's superiors in the Dominican order sent him to a residential treatment program in 1993. They concluded that "because of a very underdeveloped psycho-sexual personality, he may have been prone to act inappropriately," according to a 1994 letter Ms. Buchanan received from Fort Worth Bishop Joseph Delaney.

Judge Wade said Thursday that he would withhold portions of the records, including information about the accused priests' health and finances. He also said he would protect the identities of accusers and laypeople who served on church review boards.

The records cover the following living priests in addition to Father Tu all of whom have denied wrongdoing or declined to comment:

The Rev. John Howlett. Church officials say he lives with fellow members of the Pallottine order in Ireland and has no unsupervised contact with the public, "to ensure he is not, and will not, have an adverse effect upon the general public health or safety."

The Rev. Rudolf Renteria. Bishop Delaney, now dead, removed him from ministry in 2002, citing a national "zero tolerance" policy that the U.S. Catholic hierarchy had just adopted. His last known address was in northwest Dallas.

The Rev. Philip Magaldi. He now is blind and lives at an unidentified assisted living center, according to an affidavit filed by one of his attorneys.

The records some 600 pages in all also cover three dead priests who worked in the Fort Worth Diocese: the Revs. William Hoover, James Hanlon and James Reilly.

Litigation against the Rev. Thomas Teczar prompted Judge Wade to seal the records in the first place. Plaintiffs in that case argued that the Fort Worth Diocese covered up his alleged abuses as part of a broader pattern of concealment. Father Teczar lives in Massachusetts and faces trial on abuse charges this spring in Eastland County, west of Fort Worth.


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