Oblates Knew for Years about Priest's Sexual Escapades

By John MacCormack
March 7, 2008

The year was 1983, and the homeless, pregnant teenager already had lost her heart and virginity to Father Tony, the compassionate assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception Church on Harrisburg Boulevard in Houston.

"You remind me of the Virgin Mary, and I've never seen anyone so beautiful," she later recalled him saying.

Nearly four decades her senior, Anthony Gonzales had given her an engagement ring and promised her, upon his return from a trip to the Vatican, to leave the priesthood so they could wed in a prestigious church ceremony.

"He was going to go talk to the pope so the pope would actually be the one doing our wedding," the woman, identified in court papers as Jane Doe, said in a sworn deposition.

But Father Tony never returned to Houston. When the 17-year-old girl later tried to reach him, other priests and church personnel told her Gonzales had died, leaving her to raise a baby girl by herself, she said.

For a while, she tried to find her lover's gravesite. Only in 2003 did she learn he was living in Taylor, married to a much younger woman who had borne him five children.

When she called him, he had difficulty remembering.

"I said, 'This is (Jane), the girl that you left pregnant in Houston,' and he said, 'I'm so sorry. I left a lot of girls pregnant. Can you tell me more about you?'" she recalled in her deposition.

Now 80, Gonzales was forced out of the priesthood in 1985. Last week, on the brink of a jury trial, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate of Texas Inc. agreed to pay the woman $1.35 million to settle her lawsuit against the order, whose southwest region is based in San Antonio.

Oblate officials and lawyers for the order declined to comment.

Filed in 2006, the suit describes a decades-long failure by the order to protect parishioners from a sexually predatory priest. It says that before Gonzales' ordination in 1957, it was clear he had sexual problems including "a psychosexual disorder characterized by abnormal sexual attraction to young girls."

His superiors repeatedly admonished him and ordered him to get psychiatric treatment — but also moved him from parish to parish as problems arose, endangering new victims, according to the suit.

Contacted this week in Taylor, Gonzales declined to comment. In his deposition, he didn't dispute the allegations against him.

"Father Tony has confirmed that he fathered at least four illegitimate children, but perhaps many others, by impregnating minor girls when he was a priest," reads the suit.

Gonzales was educated by the Oblates at St. Anthony's Apostolic School in San Antonio, St. Peter's Noviate in Mission and the DeMazenod Scholasticate in San Antonio.

During his 28 years as a priest, he served in about a dozen parishes in Texas, including in San Antonio, Laredo, Brownsville, Uvalde, Elgin, Sabinal, Eagle Pass and Austin.

He also served at churches in Louisiana and in Canada, his final posting, where he was sent in 1983 after leaving Houston. In Canada, his predatory behavior continued, according to the suit.

"There he met, abused and married his last known victim. She was only 13 years old at the time he initiated his criminal sexual liaison with her," reads the lawsuit.

Gonzales finally was forced to leave the Oblates in 1985, according to his deposition, but not because of his sexual misconduct — the last straw was leaving Canada for Texas without permission instead of going to a treatment center in New Mexico.

"I didn't want to go (to the center), and my refusal to go was tantamount for me to be asking out. Either you obey or you must leave," he said in his deposition.

In their court filings, lawyers for the Oblates argued — unsuccessfully — that Jane Doe's claims should be tossed out because they described events from the 1980s that were barred by various statutes of limitations. They also claimed the order had "used due diligence to prevent the ... wrongful acts."

And they fought a vigorous battle — ultimately decided against them by Texas' 4th Court of Appeals — to keep the plaintiffs from obtaining settlement documents with another of Gonzales' victims and her two children.

Documents obtained by Doe's lawyers revealed his superiors were aware of his behavior.

A 1963 canonical warning to Gonzales referred to "the many proven instances and accusations made against you by various people of the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Houston, and many suspicious incidents associated with you in Brownsville and Austin, in the nature of embracing and kissing and fondling women and girls."

After ordering Gonzales to seek treatment, the warning closed with a plea.

"In the name of God, for the honor of your priesthood and for the good of our Oblate Congregation, I beg you to accept this warning as medicinal and in the spirit of charity in which it is given," wrote Father John Hakey, an Oblate provincial.

Gonzales' behavior didn't change.

In a 1973 letter to his superiors in San Antonio, members of a Catholic parish in Louisiana listed 25 complaints including misuse of money, drinking and "embracing the opposite sex."

The parishioners also complained about his young secretary — who decades later complained to church officials that she had been his child mistress, beginning at age 14.

"We were taught that priests were to be revered and treated like God because that is what they are, God's representative's here on earth, and they could do no wrong," she wrote.

"You can never imagine the shame and guilt I feel now," the woman wrote.

"I need some answers for my own sanity. I am hoping the answers will prove that I am a person, a real person that matters, not just a piece of dirt to be swept under the rug once again, like it was done before," she said, referring to a 1973 Oblate inquiry into her relationship with Gonzales.

Had Jane Doe's case gone to trial, Father Tom Doyle, a Dominican priest who has testified as expert witness in numerous similar cases, likely would have taken the stand on her behalf. He said that even more shocking than Gonzales' behavior with young girls was the Oblates' mishandling of it.

"They were aware of his problems in 1961 and they had ample evidence throughout the years of what was going on, yet they simply moved him from place to place," said Doyle, who produced a lengthy report on the case.

And, he said, even when confronted by the lawsuit, church officials denied responsibility.

"I'm a priest, and I'm asking what planet did these men come from that they were not horrified at his activity, and that they didn't respond in a compassionate way to the victims and their families, and they actually thought a grown man having sex with a 14-year-old was not deeply wrong and a civil crime," he said.

In her deposition, Jane Doe said she met Gonzales in 1981 while she was living with her mentally ill mother in an abandoned house in Houston.

She said Gonzales eventually won her over with favors and attention.

"Father Tony actually taught me how to pray, taught me how to pray the Rosary and the Act of Contrition. And we would kneel down and pray together," she recalled.

He also wrote poems for her, serenaded her with the guitar, gave her hot meals and warm baths at the rectory with the knowledge of the parish pastor, she said. Soon she fell in love and agreed to marry him.

"Father Tony said he was a virgin and all this was new to him. And I was a virgin too. So I mean he was curious. He had never seen a girl before without clothes and he had never touched a girl before," Doe said.

But, she said, Gonzales insisted she prove her purity by being intimate with him.

"Father Tony had sex with me all over the church, in the confession rooms, the rectories and behind the altar and pews, and any opportunity he had to fondle me and kiss me and caress me," she recalled.

In his deposition, Gonzales did not dispute her account beyond saying Doe initiated their sexual relationship.

He also revealed that as a boy, he'd been sexually abused three times by men, and he blamed it for his sexual targeting of young women. He said the repeated treatments and counseling ordered by the church were pointless.

"All the experts couldn't reach deep enough because they used machines, equipment for my head, my heart, my soul," Gonzales said.

"And I always attained what I wanted. But as one priest, Father Hakey, called it, 'You're a con artist.' Because I would convince the higher-ranking people to put me back to work. (Priests) were in short supply," he said.

In a letter to one of the women he had victimized in the 1970s, Gonzales put it more succinctly.

"First I denied you back then. I ran away scared. I ran back to the church which has always protected me," he wrote in May 2003.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.