OF BROWNSVILLE TX
Credibly Accused Priests: 7 (allegations about whom "there is reasonable cause to believe")
Total Priests: 246
Persons Originating Allegations: 12
Cost: $431,300 (of which $250,000 in counseling for victims, $41,300 in counseling for priests, $20,000 in legal fees, and $120,000 in settlements with victims)
Data are since the erection of the Brownsville diocese in 1965, on territory from the diocese of Corpus Christi. Costs are since 1978, because "financial information on costs associated with the abuse of minors is not available for the years prior to 1978."
See the Dallas Morning News database entry on Bishop Raymundo Peña. The June 2002 database examined the records of bishops and identified those who had allowed accused priests to continue working or had otherwise protected priests accused of sexual abuse. The database is relevant to the bishops' "Nature and Scope" study because the bishops who prepared the surveys for the study are in many cases responsible for the "scope" of the problem.
See the diocesan report and Bishop Peña's letter.
Catholics react to allegations
By Sarah Ovaska
Valley Morning Star
January 9, 2004
McALLEN — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville broke its silence this week by announcing that since 1965, seven diocesan priests have victimized children.
The information, gathered for a nationwide report on the extent of the sexual abuse crisis within American Catholic parishes, confirmed what many had suspected.
When releasing the information, the diocese decided not to name the seven abusive priests. The Rev. Heberto M. Diaz Jr., chancellor of the Brownsville Diocese, said on Tuesday that the priests are not being named because most of the abuse happened long ago. All of the priests are still alive, but are no longer affiliated with the diocese, Diaz said.
"In the older cases, those priests are no longer priests," Diaz said. "We don’t have any contact with them."
That decision has raised questions with some local Catholics. "If we don’t know the names, what good will it do?" asked Maria A. Median, 47, of Edinburg. "There’s got to be a lot of victims."
Although she felt the diocese’s recent decision to talk about the seven abusive priests was a step forward, Medina questioned the timing.
"They just waited a little too long to release it, " she said.
The diocese issued a press release this week that as information is gathered from different religious orders, the diocese will release the numbers of any religious order priests who may have abused children in the Rio Grande Valley.
Pete Sztraky of Mission said the church should release the names and so avoid being publicly accused by the media.
"They should beat the media to it," said Sztraky, 57. "Do some prevention stuff instead of damage control."
Another local Catholic, Conrad Prukop, 26, of McAllen said that the problems facing the church shouldn’t be a huge focus of the media. If victims and church officials were able to interact without the glare of local media, the church as a whole would be better off, he said.
"I wish the church and families could sort it out without all this media attention," Prukop said.
Not naming the priests still leaves children at risk of being molested, said Sylvia Demarest, a Dallas attorney who represented several victims of Rudy Kos, a serial child molester and priest considered one of the most high-profile examples of sexual abuse by clergy.
"We need to know where these priests are," she said. "People need to know who they are so that they can protect their children."
Demarest said that victims in areas like the Rio Grande Valley are less likely to report abuse because of the cultural ties to Catholicism as well as a population that is often economically and socially powerless.
"In an area such as McAllen or Brownsville, it would be very similar to what Anglo populations were 35 or 40 years ago," Demarest said. "The number of priests that (diocese officials) know about is probably understated."
The effect of abuse on victims drives many to attempt or commit suicide, said Miguel Prats, the Texas coordinator for the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.
"I call (abuse by clergy) a spiritual holocaust," Prats said. "When clergy abuse a child, it not only has the effect of destroying their personality, it destroys their soul."
Brownsville diocese to settle lawsuit with victim who claims
ex-priest molested her
"It’s time for healing," Edmundo Ramirez, the attorney for the diocese, said of the lawsuit filed against the diocese and former priest Basil Onyia. He added that the settlement does not indicate that the diocese admits wrongdoing.
The settlement amount will be covered by the diocese’s insurance, according to a statement released by the diocese.
"Whatever he (Onyia) did, he did on his own," Ramirez said. "Obviously, the diocese does not condone this behavior."
The settlement comes on the heels of a trial scheduled to begin Nov. 17 in Judge Noe Gonzalez’s 370th state District Court. Attorneys for the victimized women had previously indicated Brownsville Bishop Raymundo J. Peña would be deposed if the case was not settled. A deposition is an official fact-gathering interview conducted under oath.
The diocese did not follow policy in reporting the sexual abuse, said Juan Magallanes, an attorney for the victim and her mother, also a party in the lawsuit.
"It certainly was a big letdown in trust where you’d expect it be the last place for a letdown of trust," Magallanes said. "It was a pretty dismal failure for what was in place to protect."
The woman, who is referred to as Jane Doe in court documents, claims Onyia molested her from late 1999 to February 2001 when she was 16 years old. The woman claimed Onyia showed her an X-rated video, fondled her breasts and inserted his finger in her vagina, according to the plaintiff’s second amended petition. The victim is not being identified because of a Monitor policy to withhold the names of victims of sexual crimes.
Described as mentally handicapped in court documents, the young woman was seeking spiritual counseling from Onyia because her father molested her at a young age.
Onyia came to the Brownsville diocese in October 1999 from his homeland of Nigeria. He served at the National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in San Juan, St. Joseph the Worker in McAllen and Immaculate Heart in Harlingen in the year and a half he served the Brownsville Diocese, according to court documents. Onyia left the country in February 2001, the same time charges of molestation began to surface publicly.
If he ever returns to the United States, Onyia has seven warrants out for his arrest in connection with criminal sexual assault charges filed by Pharr police.
The Brownsville Diocese has maintained that they do not know Onyia’s whereabouts, according to previous published reports by The Monitor.
An attorney for the diocese indicated the settlement amount would be kept confidential while an attorney for the victim said he has made no decision of whether the settlement amount will be included in the public court record.
In a policy approved last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, settlement amounts between the Church and victims will be public unless a victim requests the matter be kept secret, according to information provided by the USCCB.
The diocesan attorney said he received indication from the victim’s mother to keep the settlement amount a secret.
"They want the matter to be confidential," Ramirez said. "We’re honoring her wishes."
However, an attorney for the female victim and the victim’s mother said the ultimate decision of whether or not to seal the settlement will be left up to Gonzalez. The judge is presiding over the lawsuit as well as a 2002 lawsuit two other victims filed against Onyia and the diocese.
"There’s no indication that the court is going to keep it confidential," Magallanes said. "We’re not going to be requesting that."
The settlement will be finalized once attorneys file the correct paperwork, according to court staff.
Negotiations between victims and the diocese were difficult, Magallanes said.
"It’s been very, very difficult," Magallanes said. "It was a very touchy subject."
In coming months, the Brownsville Diocese will release the number of
priests accused of sexual misconduct as well as the number of victims
who were minors and settlements made to victims, the diocese announced
The plaintiff is identified in the lawsuit, but his name is not being published because of a Monitor policy that withholds the names of alleged sexual assault victims.
The priest, who formerly served at Sacred Heart, is not specifically named in the lawsuit. He is referred to in the suit only as a "molester priest." The time period of the alleged offenses also is not disclosed in the suit.
"I am a member of Sacred Heart parish and it does not involve Father (James) Pfeifer," said Manuel Trigo Jr., the attorney representing the victim. "This is someone who was there sometime before that."
Pfeifer is the current pastor at Sacred Heart.
Trigo refused to answer questions as to when the alleged molestation occurred and why the priest’s name was not disclosed.
Diocesan attorney David Garza did not return telephone calls Wednesday. The Most Rev. Raymondo J. Peña, bishop of the Brownsville Diocese, is on vacation until the second week of August and could not return telephone calls.
In the lawsuit filed this week, the vague details describe a priest repeatedly assaulting a minor over a period of time.
"The molestation was not a one-time event, rather, it proceeded over a long period of time," the lawsuit alleged. "Plaintiff (the victim) was just a child at the time, had his trust in the Church, and was not psychologically equipped to resist the sexual demands of the priest."
Diocese officials are being sued because they hired the priest and did not investigate his background or properly supervise him, the lawsuit contended.
The lawsuit is filed in County Court No. 5. The county court system handles civil cases for possible settlements of up to $750,000. Cases that exceed that amount are placed in state district courts.
Several dioceses across the United States have been financially drained from settlements in sexual abuse cases. The Diocese of Manchester, N.H. paid $15.5 million earlier this year to settle 176 sexual abuse claims while the Boston Archdiocese missed a June 27 deadline to settle 400 out of 500 sexual abuse cases. Dioceses, including the Brownsville Diocese, have been accused by lay groups of making secret settlements in molestation cases.
The Brownsville Diocese has not publicly disclosed any settlements in sexual abuse cases, despite requests made this spring by a small local chapter of Call to Action, a national organization seeking transparency in the church’s finances and handling of sexual abuse case.
Peña said recently that releasing information about priests accused of abuse would be a tedious process, requiring him to look through 35 years worth of personnel files.
Two lawsuits are pending in Noe Gonzalez’s 370th state District
Court regarding abuse allegedly committed against a teenage girl between
January 2000 and January 2001 by Fr. Basil Onyia, a priest from Nigeria
who was serving in the diocese at the time. Onyia has since left the country
and is wanted by local law enforcement agencies for questioning in connection
with the sexual abuse allegations.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.