Thomas A. Tschoepe: Former Catholic Bishop of Dallas Diocese Was Tirelessly Devoted to Church

By Michael E. Young and Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
January 26, 2009 DN-tschoepeobit_26met.ART.State.Edition2.46d0abb.html

[Note from See also Former Bishop Who Didn't Testify in Kos Trial Still Active in Church: Plaintiffs Were Told Ex-Head of Diocese Has Alzheimer's, by Ed Housewright and Brooks Egerton, Dallas Morning News, August 1, 1997; Memorandum on Does v. Diocese of Dallas et al., by Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., May 16, 1996, and the section on Rev. Robert R. Peebles; the letter from Bishop Tschoepe to Cardinal Law about a presentation by Rev. Paul R. Shanley, February 12, 1985; and a different assessment of that presentation in The Enemy Within, by Father Joseph Wilson, Catholic World News, July 4, 2002.]

Thomas A. Tschoepe, a North Texas farm boy who spent more than 20 often turbulent years as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, never really wanted that job.

After his retirement as bishop in 1990, he asked for a job as a parish priest and was assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Waxahachie at age 75. He didn't see it as a step down.

"I am doing what I always wanted to do," he said. "I never wanted to be a bishop. I wanted to be a pastor. I am where I can be with people."

Thomas A. Tschoepe. File photo 1989.
Steve Landregan, the diocesan archivist and author of Circuit Rider to Cathedral: How the Diocese of Dallas Came to Be, said, "Bishop Tschoepe would tell you himself that the only reason he became a bishop was the pope asked him to."

Bishop Tschoepe, who died Saturday at 93, was remembered Sunday as a man who was happiest when he was with the people and who never lost the sense of humility he picked up on his family's farm near Pilot Point.

His tenure as bishop of the Dallas Diocese began in 1969. It was a time of tremendous upheaval in American society and within the Catholic Church but also a period of strong growth, particularly in fast-growing Dallas.

Circuit Rider to Cathedral lists 19 parishes founded during his tenure. He opened new schools and dedicated many churches. According to the Rev. Tim Gollub, who served as Bishop Tschoepe's assistant when he was a monsignor at St. Augustine's Parish in Pleasant Grove in the late 1950s, "he was most proud of the fact that he ordained 101 priests."

The bishop had tremendous respect for the work of the parish priest, Father Gollub said, a notion that was only reinforced when he became bishop of San Angelo in 1966, with its wide-open spaces and relatively few priests to cover it all.

"When he got to San Angelo, he went to visit every parish, every hospital, every priest," Father Gollub said. "He had one priest who had something like five jobs to do. So he said, 'I'm not going to take a priest to be my chauffeur.' He always drove himself."

But his dedication to his fellow priests led the Diocese of Dallas into a sexual-abuse cover-up that cost more than $45 million in legal settlements and left lives in tatters.

Bishop Tschoepe twice moved pedophile priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos to new parishes in the 1980s after complaints about his behavior with boys and transferred other priests accused of molesting boys as well.

One, Robert Peebles, admitted to molesting boys in the early 1980s, and Bishop Tschoepe had him transferred to a job as an Army chaplain in Georgia. There, according to court records, Peebles tried to rape a visiting Dallas boy and was spared a court-martial "after weeks of intense negotiations involving myself, the parents of the boy and the military authorities," Bishop Tschoepe wrote in church papers.

In a 1994 interview, Bishop Tschoepe denied that he or any other church official had covered up sexual abuse.

"When he was bishop, his was kind of a lonely job, and he had to rely on one or two counselors," Father Gollub said. "He tried to do what was best for the church.

"That's not exactly a good formula, and it didn't work out so well."

Sylvia Demarest, a lawyer who represented victims of Mr. Kos, Mr. Peebles and other abusive priests, remembered meeting Bishop Tschoepe during pretrial proceedings.

"He seemed like a very nice man and perhaps a well-intentioned man," she said. "His primary calling was to protect the reputation of the church. But he set in motion a series of events that badly damaged the reputation of the church."

"He had a great sense of forgiveness that God can forgive, that people can change," Father Gollub said. "There wasn't the sense of that kind of sin then that we have now."

And Bishop Tschoepe was a man who never strayed far from his roots. He lived in a modest apartment in the diocese's chancery office. Visitors would often find him sweeping up the garage.

"He was a very spiritual man, and he was a very simple man," Mr. Landregan said. "He was a country boy."

And his background was devoutly Catholic. A cousin served as a bishop in Indiana. Another cousin was a priest in Fort Worth and Dallas. Two nephews, Monsignor Leon Busman and Monsignor Jerome Duesman, are pastors of St. Ann in Coppell and Holy Family of Nazareth in Irving.

He is also survived by three sisters: Vera Duesman and Clara Simmel of Pilot Point and Bertha Holley of McKinney.

The vigil for Bishop Tschoepe begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral Shine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas, followed by a memorial Mass at 7 p.m.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Thursday in the cathedral, followed by entombment at the Crypt of the Bishops at Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas.

Father Gollub said he visited the bishop three weeks ago at his home at St. Joseph's Retirement Center in Oak Cliff.

"Another priest and I went to see him. He didn't know exactly who we were, but he knew we were priests, and he asked us to give him our blessing, and we did," he said. "And we asked him to give us his blessing, and he did.

"That was the last time I saw him."



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