San Antonio Archbishop Vows to Name ‘credibly Accused’ Priests
By Elaine Ayala
October 10, 2018
Promising its fullest disclosure ever of accusations of sexual abuse of children by priests, the Archdiocese of San Antonio has formed an independent commission to review church files going back 75 years and make public its findings, including names of offenders.
A five-member panel headed by Catherine M. Stone, retired chief justice of the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals, also will review and recommend improvements to the archdiocese’s procedures for responding to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.
The archdiocese’s announcement Wednesday came hours after a statement from all the state’s dioceses, which agreed to release the names of every member of the Catholic clergy “credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor, going back at least to 1950.”
The reports will be released Jan. 31, the statement said. No decision has been made yet about how or where the names of accused clergy will be published, archdiocese spokesman Jordan McMorrough said.
Visibly distressed, his voice cracking at times, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller began a news conference Wednesday by acknowledging he is “embarrassed and angry” by the scandal that in recent weeks has shaken up the church’s top U.S. leadership.
“I am committed to increase accountability and transparency in how our church here addresses the scourge of sexual abuse of minors,” Garcia-Siller said, underlining the mandate to share the allegations with the public.
“Honesty and transparency will be painful and at times deeply troubling,” he said. “But I believe that it is the best path to healing for survivors and the only path to transformation for our church.”
Wednesday’s dual announcements stemmed from decisions made Sept. 30 at a meeting of Texas bishops in Austin chaired by Garcia-Siller.
Catholic leaders across the country have been scrambling to respond as well, jolted into action by an exhaustive report in August by a Pennsylvania grand jury that found more than 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades in that state.
It named several priests who ended up in San Antonio after their crimes were known to church leaders in Pennsylvania.
Since 2002, the Archdiocese has named about a dozen priests accused of sexual misconduct, some of them with adults rather than minors. It detailed the allegations against eight priests that year, but refused to identify others who were retired or dead.
In subsequent years the archdiocese has acknowledged learning of new allegations, either directly or from lawsuits, about priests who have worked in its parishes, and named them.
A 2004 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that documented 10,667 claims of abuse between 1950 and 2002 involving 4,392 accused priests nationwide put the numbers in San Antonio at 58 victims, 20 priests, but didn’t name them. It was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' National Review Board.
Since the Pennsylvania grand jury report was issued, several other states have pledged to conduct similar investigations.
Garcia-Siller credited Tom Mengler, president of St. Mary’s University, with suggesting the Texas bishops’ initiative. Mengler will be a member of the new lay commission, he said, and Judge Stone recruited others and will announce the panel’s makeup at a later date.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Mengler said his peers in the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, whose board he chairs, have discussed their “role and responsibility” to urge their bishops to “undertake bold, public action to restore the trust of faithful men and women in their dioceses.”
Mengler credited the archbishop for moving quickly to establish the lay commission “to review the policies and the practices of the archdiocese and report its findings to the archbishop and the public.”
A biography of Stone online shows she was the 2014 recipient of the Catholic Charities of San Antonio’s Lifetime of Faith and Service Award in 2014. In 2004, she received the Archdiocese’s Leadership Service Award.
The archbishop said the commission’s review will dovetail with the ongoing work of the Archdiocesan Review Board, which has been charged with implementing the procedures for handling sex abuse allegations outlined in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The commission will examine the archdiocese’s procedures and offer recommendations on improving them.
Several observers hailed Wednesday’s announcements, with some reservations. Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which documents abuses by priests, called them positive but “long overdue.”
“The bishops of Texas have been among the least transparent in the U.S. Catholic Church,” she said in an email. “We estimate that they are concealing hundreds of names of accused clergy. The bishops' extreme secrecy has been enabled by the state's civil statutes of limitation, one of the most victim-hostile such statutes in the country.”