Across Texas, Catholic dioceses are releasing lists of priests and laity suspected of sexual abuse since 1950. It’s being done with the goal of restoring trust to a Catholic Church that has been rocked for years, in Texas and around the world, by allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-ups.
Catholic leaders in Texas have identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children, a number that represents one of the largest collections of names to be released since an explosive grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania.
Fourteen dioceses in Texas on Thursday named those credibly accused of abuse. The only diocese not to provide names, Fort Worth, did so more than a decade ago.
There are only a handful of states where every diocese has released names, and most of them have only one or two dioceses.
The move by Texas church leaders follows a shocking Pennsylvania report in August detailing seven decades of child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests. In the months after that report, about 50 dioceses and religious provinces released the names of nearly 1,250 priests. In late February, an international meeting of Catholic leaders will convene in Rome to discuss clergy sex abuse.
In West Texas, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Angelo said Thursday 13 clerics had “credible allegations” of sexual abuse of minors against them since the San Angelo diocese was founded in 1961.
Of the 13 identified, four were priests with the Diocese of San Angelo, eight were priests from other dioceses or religious orders ministering in the diocese, and one was a permanent deacon with the San Angelo diocese.
The Dallas Diocese, which is comprised of nine counties including Dallas, Collin and Rockwall, was among the 14 state dioceses to release names.
“These have been very difficult days within the Church and the Diocese of Dallas,” Bishop Edward J. Burns said in a letter to the diocese. “As we look back at the Church’s history, our failure to protect our most vulnerable from abuse, and hold accountable those who preyed on them, fills me with both sorrow and shame. … I pledge to you that we will do our best to do what is right.”
The bishop tasked a team of former law enforcement officers to review files of more than 2,400 clergy members who have served in the diocese. The 31 priests who were named faced allegations of sexual abuse of a minor determined to be credible.
Seventeen of them have died, and several who those still living were suspended or defrocked. Five have been prosecuted. One priest – Rudy Kos – is incarcerated.
“I know that this list represents a whole lot of folks that are victims that just haven’t been able to come forward,” said Paul Petersen, an abuse survivor who helps lead the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
Petersen says he’s skeptical about the process that produced the list, and says law enforcement in Texas should take a more active role investigating child sex abuse and how allegations in the church were handled. While he wants the attorney general to lead a state-wide investigation, he’s encouraged that the Dallas Police Department has assigned a detective to focus specifically on clergy abuse.
“It’s time to get really transparent with this cancer that’s been in the church for so long,” Petersen said.
The Fort Worth diocese released the names of clergy suspected of abuse in 2005 and has been updating the list on their website since then.
Austin’s Catholic Diocese says 22 clergy members have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors over the past seven decades.
In an announcement Thursday, Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez apologized “to the victims and their families for the diocese’s failures.”
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller expressed remorse during a news conference Thursday in San Antonio.
“Allegations of sexual misconduct by bishops is tearing the church apart,” said Garia-Siller. “And the challenge for us as a church is to renew our committment to holiness and justice.”
Additionally, the Archodiocese of Galveston-Houston revealed names of 42 credibly accused clergy members. Among the 42 are two priests currently under investigation, Fathers John T. Keller and Manuel La Rosa-Lopez of Conroe. The Houston Archdiocese was searched by law enforcement last November, in connection with the investigation.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a victims’ right and support group, issued a statement today in response.
“As advocates and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, we believe that any and all transparency is to be applauded coming from a closed and secret culture such as the Roman Catholic Church,” the statement reads. “The releasing of these names is at least one small step towards transparency. Still, we are concerned that these lists might not be as transparent as promised.”
Patti Koo leads the San Antonio chapter of SNAP. Thursday morning, she told Texas Standard that, despite the potential fallout from the lists, their release could also be an empowering experience for abuse survivors.
“When you see your predator’s name and you see that people recognize what they’ve done to you, it can be very healing,” Koo said.