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Texas Catholic dioceses release list of "credible" abuse claims against clergy

In response to a call from Pope Francis for transparency, all 15 dioceses have released lists going back decades.

The interior of St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Austin on Jan. 30, 2019.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Every Roman Catholic Diocese in Texas released a list Thursday of “credible abuse” claims against clergy going back decades, a move that comes as dioceses across the nation have released or prepared to release similar lists in response to a call from Pope Francis for greater transparency and accountability.

The ongoing sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church reached a new crescendo in August after a Pennsylvania investigation found more than 1,000 victims and more than 300 perpetrators throughout the state. Two months later, the 15 dioceses across Texas announced that they would be publishing their own lists by Jan. 31.

Gustavo García-Siller, the Archbishop of San Antonio, said at the time that Texas bishops “are working to further healing and restore trust, to take new actions to protect the vulnerable and offer support to survivors of clergy sexual abuse of minors.”

On Thursday, the names of accused clergy appeared on each diocese's website: 42 in Galveston-Houston, four priests and a deacon in Lubbock, 22 in Austin, 53 in San Antonio. Many of the lists were accompanied by letters from bishops or videos like the one posted by Austin Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, who said, "I apologize and express my deepest sorrow to the victims and their families for the abuse that occurred and for any failures of the Diocese of Austin. I pray daily for these and all victims of sexual abuse."

Jordan McMorrough, director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said each list includes every credible allegation of sexual abuse going back as far as the 1940s and ’50s. The San Antonio archdiocese list, released on its website, stretches back to 1940.

The lists also included the church's definition of a "credible allegation." The Catholic Diocese of Dallas website said a credible allegation was "one that, after review of reasonably available, relevant information in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board or other professionals, there is reason to believe is true."

"Although I have also provided this list of names to law enforcement, inclusion on this list does not indicate that a priest is guilty of, been convicted of, or has admitted to the alleged abuse," Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns said in a letter that accompanied his diocese's list of 31 people — 17 of them deceased.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio also plans to release a document with an audit of all of its cases and how they were handled, written by an independent Lay Commission on Clergy Sexual Abuse of Minors.

Catherine Stone, a former Texas Fourth Court of Appeals chief justice appointed by García-Siller to lead the seven-person lay commission, said the members found that over the last 10-15 years, the San Antonio archdiocese has enacted procedures to report abuse claims to the district attorney’s office. The diocese's release said it had not received any allegations of abuse by a clergy member between 2010 and 2019.

McMorrough said each case on the San Antonio archdiocese list has been reported to law enforcement.

García-Siller said in October that he is “committed to increase accountability and transparency in how our church here addresses the scourge of sexual abuse of minors.”

In the Pennsylvania investigation, a grand jury report described what it called a cover-up, concluding that victims’ complaints were brushed aside or hidden by church officials, who used terms like “boundary issues” instead of “rape.” According to the grand jury report, one evaluation submitted by the diocese of Pittsburgh, which involved the arrest of a priest accused of abusing a 15-year-old, acknowledged that the priest had engaged in “sadomasochistic” activities with several boys but concluded the sadomasochism was only “mild.”

Over the past few years, local prosecutors across the nation have also been conducting their own investigations. Texas bishops emphasized that all suspected abuse cases should be referred to local authorities first.

KXAN-TV reported that in Texas, hundreds of letters have been sent to the state attorney general’s office requesting that the state begin a grand jury investigation similar to the one in Pennsylvania.

But Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said Texas law is very different from Pennsylvania’s and doesn’t give the attorney general the authority to launch a similar grand jury investigation.

“The complaints are misplaced because that is not even in [the attorney general’s] job description,” Edmonds said.

Marc Rylander, spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s office, said in a written statement, “Our office stands ready to assist local law enforcement and any district attorney office that asks for our help in dismantling this form of evil and removing the threat of those who threaten Texas children. To date, we have not received any such requests, but we are ready to provide assistance to local prosecutors in accordance with state law and original criminal jurisdiction. No young person should ever live in fear of abuse, especially abuse from religious and spiritual leaders.”

Edmonds said his association, which assists local district attorneys across the state, was not aware of any significant increase in cases of sexual abuse by clergy; he said he is aware of three active cases in Austin, Dallas and Montgomery County.

Edmonds says if legal action has not yet been taken in the cases made public Thursday, it may be too late in older cases because the statute of limitations may have run out.

A Central Texas man who says he was abused as a teen more than 40 years ago — by a priest who came to his house for dinner almost weekly as part of his mother’s tradition of feeding community members and church leaders — said he still hopes wider investigations will be launched in Texas.

The man, who requested anonymity because he wants to protect his privacy, is a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP and said he supports the group’s nationwide petition calling for attorneys general in each state to take action.

The man said he has met survivors of abuse by clergy from many other denominations and wants to see any broader investigations include other churches as well.

“There is this misconception that it is a priest and Catholic issue,” he said. “It is an issue of all religious sectors, whether it is Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran or so forth. Obviously the focus is on the Catholics, but I think we need a broader scope, and they need to look into a lot of issues that are kind of swept under the mat regarding other religious institutions that have had similar issues that have not been addressed.”

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