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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Catholic Leaders in Texas Name 286 Priests ‘Credibly’ Accused of Abuse

Fitting for a faith that believes confessing one’s sins cleanses the soul, Catholic dioceses in Texas on Thursday released the names of 286 priests they said have been “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct since the 1940s and 1950s.

HOUSTON (CN) – Fitting for a faith that believes confessing one’s sins cleanses the soul, Catholic dioceses in Texas on Thursday released the names of 286 priests they said have been “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct since the 1940s and 1950s.

Each of the state’s 15 Catholic dioceses – which together minister to more than 4 million Catholic Texans – released the lists of accused priests. Only the Diocese of Laredo on the Mexico border said it had no priests to name.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston named 42 priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct since 1950, and said 19 of them are dead while the others have retired, been removed from the priesthood or “laicized” – reduced to lay status, also known as defrocked.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston struck a repentant tone in a statement.

“Our church has been lacerated by this wound and we must take action to heal it . . . It is my sincere hope that the publication of the names of credibly accused clergy will be a step forward to healing for those who have suffered in the wake of such actions,” he said.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests praised the church’s naming of alleged predators and pedophiles, but said “coming from a closed and secret culture such as the Roman Catholic Church” it was concerned “these lists might not be as transparent as promised.”

Rainstorms in Houston appeared to have stopped members of the group from staging a protest planned for 3 p.m. Thursday in front of the stately marble Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston.

Five news trucks were parked outside the church, their cameramen camped out under umbrellas or hunkering down in plastic ponchos, but no protesters showed up.

DiNardo’s archdiocese only listed the names and current status of the accused priests. He said the list was produced by a review board primarily composed of lay people from different professions and religious faiths, which vetted the allegations.

DiNardo’s archdiocese said inclusion on its list is a “pastoral judgment” that is not the same as a guilty plea or a guilty verdict in a court of law and it does not mean the allegations have been proven.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio took a more granular approach. It included details of allegations against the 56 priests in its report and dates when the alleged assaults occurred.

Those 56 were the only predators of the more than 3,000 priests who have ministered in the diocese since 1940, the San Antonio archdiocese said in its report.

Leading the San Antonio list was Javier Ortiz-Dietz with 16 allegations.

According to the report, the archdiocese had a profile of Ortiz-Dietz, who was ordained in 1978, on file from his time in seminary school that expressed concerns about his personality traits, finding he exhibited “marked sexual conflict . . . obsessive manias, pronounced paranoid characteristics, delusions of grandeur, vanity and narcissism.”

A grand jury indicted Ortiz-Dietz in 1992 for abusing three boys. Two years later, he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison, the report states.

The archdiocese said it defrocked Ortiz-Dietz while he was in prison and told clergy in the state of Puebla, Mexico, it had done so after he was deported to Mexico in 2014 and was believed to be living in the state.

Notably absent from the Brownsville Archdiocese’s list is John Feit. A Hidalgo County jury convicted Feit in 2017 of suffocating McAllen schoolteacher Irene Garza to death after she was last seen on her way to confession at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen in 1960.

Former priest John Feit sits in court on Sept. 11, 2017, in Hidalgo County, Texas. The 87-year-old is charged with the 1960 murder of local beauty queen Irene Garza. (ERIK DE LA GARZA, Courthouse News Service)

A former Trappist monk testified in Feit’s trial that Feit told him he had assaulted Garza before suffocating her with a cellophane bag.

Feit is serving his life sentence at a medium-security prison near Navasota, Texas.

The Catholic Diocese of Dallas said it had a team of retired law enforcement officers review the files of 2,424 former and active priests dating to 1950. The team found credible accusations against 31, less than 2 percent.

Like the Houston-Galveston Archdiocese, the Diocese of Dallas gave cursory data about the accused priests with no specifics about their alleged abuses.

Lucy Supercinski, a Houston resident and devout Catholic who says a rosary every day, said she’s not going to change religions because of these reports.

“It happened a long time ago. I’m sorry that it happened. But I’m still a Catholic,” she said. “They’re human too. They made a mistake and they’re supposed to be devoted to God. But it’s their conscience. Pope Francis addressed it and he’s sorry. And all we can do is move forward.”

Erik De La Garza contributed to this report.

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Categories / Criminal, Regional, Religion

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