Texas Catholic Dioceses to Release Names of Clergy Accused of Sexual Abuse
By Asher Price
October 10, 2018
As pressure mounts on Roman Catholic dioceses across the country to come clean about how they handled abusive priests, the 15 Catholic bishops in Texas announced Wednesday that they will soon publish the names of clergy who have been “credibly” accused of child sexual assault.
“My hope in releasing these names is to be transparent and begin to rebuild trust with the people I shepherd,” Austin Bishop Joe Vasquez said in a statement Wednesday.
“This sort of scandal has undermined the credibility of church and it has caused people to be angry and upset — and they have every reason to be upset,” he told the American-Statesman.
Victims’ advocates said the move is part of a national reckoning in a new era of accountability.
“It’s always positive when bishops release names,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, a Massachusetts-based organization tracking the clergy sexual abuse crisis. “In the case of Texas bishops, this step is long overdue. They’re among the least transparent leaders in the U.S. Catholic Church. They’ve been extremely secretive thanks to the state’s civil statute of limitations, which is among the most victim-hostile in the country.”
She said 4,600 clergy have been publicly accused of wrongdoing nationally since the 1950s — but only 134 in Texas, and just seven in Austin.
Major litigation or prosecutions have revealed that dioceses “can expect to have 8 to 10 percent of their clergy identify as accused,” she said. But a 2004 Austin diocese report said that since 1950 only six clergy had been accused.
The report did not give names of perpetrators or details about the abuse, however. “They had the opportunity 14 years ago to get the information out there and make progress with identifying the stories of victims,” said Eileen Flynn DeLaO, who teaches journalism and religion at the University of Texas.
Bob Hilliard, a Corpus Christi lawyer who represents sexual abuse victims, said the church likely is conducting the review to lessen liability from potential lawsuits.
Despite a restrictive Texas statute of limitations, “it can be, and will likely be, waived by the church for all those who participate in settlement discussions,” Hilliard said.
He said the publication of the names is likely a “first step in an attempted fettered resolution” that could involve a class settlement in which victims are given awards based on the type of abuse they suffered and other factors.
Austin abuse claims
Vasquez said an investigator selected by church attorneys will conduct the Austin investigation
Critics raise questions about impartiality because the review won’t be conducted by an independent third party.
“They decide what counts as ‘credible’ and who is exposed,” Hilliard said.
Vasquez said the decision to publish names continues work the diocese has undertaken since as long ago as 2002 to combat abuse in its ranks. Its Ethics and Integrity in Ministry program requires all people in ministry to undergo training and a criminal background check every three years. The diocese has trained more than 79,400 people through the program.
The 15 Catholic dioceses in Texas decided in late September to release the names, according to a news release.
There are 8.5 million Catholics and 1,320 Catholic parishes in Texas.
Vasquez, who was installed as bishop of the Austin Diocese in 2010, declined to say whether the diocese has reached any settlements with victims during his tenure.
He recently told the Catholic Spirit, the diocese’s in-house newspaper, that reading about a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that found widespread abuse over decades, “I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I was sickened and outraged by the findings.”
Vasquez told the Statesman he knows of at least three cases in the Austin Diocese involving sexual abuse of a child after 2002, as he detailed in the Catholic Spirit:
• In 2004, a deacon was convicted of indecent exposure with a child and received a 10-year probated sentence. He was removed from the ministry.
• In 2005 a priest, who moved to Austin from another diocese, was charged with groping a youth. He was removed from ministry and the case ended in a mistrial.
• In 2011, a deacon plead guilty to indecency with a child. The deacon was permanently removed from ministry.
He told the Catholic Spirit that the diocese received reports after 2002 of sexual abuse against minors that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. “The priests involved in those cases are deceased or are no longer permitted to be in ministry,” he said in the publication.
In 2016, a man filed a lawsuit against the Austin Diocese, alleging its bishops had known a priest at a North Austin church abused him decades earlier when he was an altar boy and did nothing to stop it.
The man, identified only as John Doe, said the now-deceased Rev. Milton Eggerling, who preached at St. Louis Church and School in the 1970s, acted as his mentor and spiritual father figure, luring him with outings and special treatment before he began sexually abusing him, according to Travis County records.
Doe was seeking unspecified damages and monetary relief of more than $1 million.
Asked whether that case had been resolved, Vasquez told the Statesman: “Today is about healing. I ask that you show care for anyone who may have been harmed by abuse in the past by forgoing questions regarding specific allegations.”
An attorney for John Doe didn’t return a call for comment.
Accusations in Dallas, Houston
The Dallas bishop in August revealed that a former pastor, Edmundo Paredes, was accused of abusing three boys more than a decade ago. Paredes, who also is accused of stealing church funds, has not been heard from since about March, and The Dallas Morning News reported that he might have fled to the Philippines, his native country.
In the Houston area, a Catholic priest, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, faced an accusation last week from a person that he sexually touched him when he was a teenager. That investigation has involved Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, who’s leading the American church’s response to sexual abuse.
DiNardo is already accused by two other people of disregarding their reports against La Rosa-Lopez, the pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in the Houston suburb of Richmond. La Rosa-Lopez was arrested in September and charged with four counts of indecency with a child.