Sheehan: I Never Reinstated Molesters

By Anne Constable
Santa Fe New Mexican (New Mexico)
June 18, 2002

Archbishop Michael Sheehan, credited with cleaning up sexual-abuse scandals in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, said Monday that he never "reinstated" child-molesters as priests while he was rector of a Dallas seminary in the 1970s and bishop of Lubbock, Texas, in the 1980s.

The headline on an Associated Press story on the front page of Monday's New Mexican was inaccurate, Sheehan said in an interview.

The story concerned a study published last week by The Dallas Morning News that said for decades at least 111 church leaders in 178 mainstream dioceses — including Sheehan — protected priests accused of sexual abuse of children.

The Dallas paper said that Sheehan let at least one accused man keep working in his parish in west Texas and admitted another abuser to a seminary in Dallas.

Sheehan said that Rudy Kos, now serving three life sentences for child abuse, was a candidate for the priesthood while Sheehan was rector of the Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas.

"One of the great sorrows of my life is that one of my former students turned out to be a pedophile," Sheehan said.

But Sheehan said he had no knowledge of Kos' sexual misconduct prior to his entering the seminary and was never involved in assigning Kos to Texas parishes.

Sheehan said in the Monday interview that he knew Kos had been married and divorced, but "I certainly wasn't aware of his (past) sexual misconduct." Kos, he noted, had good military-service and employment records prior to seeking ordination.

The Dallas newspaper reported that Sheehan admitted Kos to the seminary after his predecessor had refused to do so. But Sheehan explained that the reluctance of his predecessor had nothing to do with suspicion of sexual misconduct and that Kos was strongly recommended by the church recruiter.

The Dallas paper also said that during Kos' civil trial in 1997, the archbishop acknowledged that he didn't review records of the annulment of Kos' marriage. Sheehan said Monday that annulment documents are confidential and the custom is only to confirm that it took place.

According to the Dallas paper, Kos' ex-wife made references in annulment documents to unspecified problems. But in her trial testimony, she said she told an annulment investigator that her former husband was "sexually attracted to boys, brought them to their apartment and never had sex with her," the report said.

The paper also reported that Kos' two younger brothers testified that he molested them and had spent time in juvenile detention for abusing another boy — but they said seminary officials did little to obtain information about their brother's past.

"It is unfortunate that his ex-wife and family, if they knew something, they didn't come and tell me," Sheehan said Monday.

"Now I know he was not living the life he was called to live," he added. "He fooled the military, he fooled the hospital, and he fooled me."

When reports surfaced that Kos was abusing boys in Dallas after his ordination, Sheehan was bishop in Lubbock, Texas.

Sheehan said that he has apologized to Kos' victims but said, "I wish I had the necessary information to have kept him out of the priesthood."

The second case cited by the Dallas paper involved Rodney Howell, a Lubbock priest.

According to Sheehan, a family from Howell's parish reported that he was abusing their two sons. The family, Sheehan said, asked him to confront the priest and seek treatment for him so he would not abuse others. They also, he said, requested that the priest, who was a friend of the family, not be removed from the parish.

Sheehan said he sent Howell to the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, N.M., because it was the only place that purported to treat clerical pedophilia. Previously, Sheehan said, Howell had undergone successful treatment for alcoholism.

When Howell returned to the parish from Jemez Springs, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and Sheehan allowed him to work there until his death in 1993.

Sheehan said that he did this "because of the wishes of the family and the cancer." He also said that psychological experts had told him that Howell was "not a threat to anyone."

Sheehan added that by the time of the priest's death the family had reconciled with him and that the father of the abused boys preached the funeral homily.

Sheehan said he made sure that the boys received counseling, though they later sued the church but lost because they waited too long to file.

According to the Dallas paper's report, Howell's brother, who had been suspended from the priesthood in New Orleans following an investigation of molestation allegations, assisted him in celebrating Mass in Lubbock as the priest was dying.

Sheehan said that when he learned about the brother from a New Orleans television station in 1992 he immediately told him he was not welcome at the parish.

The Dallas study makes it sound as if he recklessly moved abusive priests to new places, Sheehan said, but "I never did that in my life."

After taking over the archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1993, Sheehan and Monsignor Ron Wolf, the late diocesan chancellor, expelled more than 20 priests, settled 187 cases — for about $25 million, he said recently — and established new guidelines for men entering the priesthood. Those guidelines were similar to the policies adopted last week by the U.S. Catholic bishops meeting in Dallas.


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