How Fort Worth dealt with priest abuse accusations
By Jody Barr
January 30, 2019
|Cross and stained glass photo|
|Russell William Detwiler|
It’s taken Texas’ Catholic dioceses 12 years to do what Fort Worth's diocese did back in 2007. Fort Worth was the first of the state’s 15 dioceses to identify clergy members with “credible allegations” of sexually abusing children — and any other allegation against priests.
Texas has 1,320 Catholic parishes in 15 dioceses.
“We listened to victims and one of the things they articulated was the experience of frustration of not having been heard and not having been believed,” the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson said in October 2018 when explaining why he decided to publish the list 12 years ago.
Olson made those comments last fall after the Catholic Diocese of Dallas told the public it had an active internal investigation into 220 priests. That investigation started in February 2018, Bishop Edward Burns told reporters last fall.
But, the Dallas diocese investigation only deals with active priests, Burns told reporters.
What's on the list?
In September, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops announced it would release names of priests with “credible allegations” dating back to 1950. It’s expected the lists, which must be made public by Jan. 31, will look a lot like Fort Worth’s 2007 list.
Fort Worth’s list included the clergy member’s name, dates within the diocese, dates and locations of assignments, date of removal from the ministry and whether the clergy member is dead or alive. The Fort Worth list does not contain details of the “credible allegation” of abuse for the majority of the 17 clergy members named.
The Fort Worth diocese only included details of the specific allegations against four of the 17 in the list. Of those four cases, the details given didn’t include exact dates of each alleged abuse or how it compared to the clergy member's parish assignment at the time of the allegation.
Of the 17 clergy members identified in Fort Worth's list, only two have been prosecuted. The first was Father Thomas Teczar, who was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in a Texas prison in 2011. Teczar abused six Texas boys, according to Tahira Merritt, who was appointed as special prosecutor in the Teczar case.
Merritt’s law firm specializes in cases involving sexually abused children, according to the firm’s website.
Teczar died in prison as the result of “an accident” in March 2015. He came to Texas from Massachusetts in 1988 after the bishop there knew Teczar had sexually abused boys in that state, according to Merritt.
In June 2018, a second Fort Worth clergy member was convicted of child sex abuse. Russell William Detwiler pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a minor in Clay County, Texas. Detwiler was convicted again in 2018 of a second allegation of sexual assault of the same victim in Wichita Falls.
Detwiler has previously left the state in 2001 to work in Saginaw, Michigan, but returned to the Fort Worth diocese in 2006, according to the list.
Detwiler’s latest assignments included a deaconship at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wichita Falls and he served as a chaplain in the diocese’s prison ministry at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Allred Unit in Wichita Falls.
Just two weeks ago, the Dallas County Sheriff confirmed an active arrest warrant on file for Father Edmundo Paredes. The 70-year-old has been in the Dallas diocese for 27 years and was accused of allegedly sexually abusing a child in July 1994, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Dallas NBC station reported allegations against Paredes were first made in February 2018. Paredes was already suspended by the diocese at the time for “unrelated accusations of theft,” the station reported.
Paredes has not yet been arrested and church officials told NBC 5 in Dallas they believe he “may have fled to his native country, the Philippines,” the station reported.