Diocese: Accused Priest Who Served in Fort Worth Has HIV

By Sam Hodges
Dallas Morning News
February 14, 2008

Fort Worth Catholic officials said Thursday that one of their most notorious predator priests has the virus that causes AIDS and has refused to tell them how long he has been infected.

The officials view the situation with great concern, given that the Rev. Philip Magaldi worked in ministry for many years despite repeated complaints about his conduct with boys and young men.

"This is very troublesome" for Bishop Kevin Vann, spokesman Pat Svacina said. He said the bishop is flying Monday to Rome, where he will urge the Vatican to speed the process begun in late 2006 of removing Father Magaldi from the priesthood.

Father Philip Magaldi

Father Magaldi has denied all wrongdoing, even as the Fort Worth Diocese found him "guilty of sexual exploitation" in one internal investigation and documented several other credible reports of misconduct. He remains free while North Richland Hills police investigate an allegation that he sexually assaulted a boy in the mid-1990s.

The priest lives at a retirement home in that northeast Tarrant County town but was not in his room Thursday evening, a receptionist there said. Neither he nor Jerry Koller, a former parishioner who has acted as his spokesman, could be reached for comment.

Fort Worth Diocese officials said they first heard last week, from Mr. Koller, that Father Magaldi was HIV-positive.

Mr. Svacina said the diocese's No. 2 official, the Rev. Michael Olson, confronted Father Magaldi, who confirmed it and allowed his physician to do so as well.

But Father Magaldi would not discuss the matter further or release his medical records, Mr. Svacina said. "That's one of the frustrations we have," he said.

Mr. Svacina said church officials believe, based on consultations with Father Magaldi's associates, that the priest has been HIV-positive since at least 2003.

Mr. Svacina said the diocese remains responsible for a portion of the priest's medical bills.

Father Magaldi is the second abusive Fort Worth priest to be confirmed HIV-positive. The first was the Rev. James Hanlon, who died in 1990 after battling the virus, alcoholism and liver disease.

Bishop Vann's predecessor, Bishop Joseph Delaney, was a longtime friend of Father Magaldi and hired him in 1990, even though the priest was under criminal investigation for stealing more than $120,000 from a church in Providence, R.I. Prosecutors there said he used some of the money for tropical vacations with adolescent boys and once gave a teenager he met in a park enough money to get a car.

After Father Magaldi served a short prison term in that case, Bishop Delaney made him chaplain of the diocesan Scouting program and let him supervise altar boys at a North Richland Hills parish.

A series of misconduct complaints followed, but Bishop Delaney let him keep returning to parish duty until the early 2000s, even as he told The Dallas Morning News that there was "no reason to distrust him" with boys.

And Father Magaldi continued a ministry at his retirement home until 2006, when Bishop Vann ended it.

Mr. Svacina said the diocese has contacted three young men who have accused Father Magaldi of misconduct in recent years.

"Most of them are appreciative" to have the information and none reported health problems that might be related to the priest, he said.

He urged anyone else who may have been abused by Father Magaldi to contact the diocese promptly.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged accusers to contact police instead.

David Clohessy, national director of the group, said Bishop Vann "should personally visit every parish where Magaldi worked and urge anyone who was harmed by this predator to come forward."

North Richland Hills police and the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office said their investigation against Father Magaldi has been difficult. One accuser who has talked with investigators has credibility problems, they said, and others have not contacted police.

Tahira Khan Merritt, a Dallas lawyer who has represented several victims of other Fort Worth priests, said she was not convinced that the diocese learned only recently of Father Magaldi's HIV status. She noted that church officials previously failed to release documents about another abuser, despite a court order, and left him on duty until late 2006.


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