HUNDREDS OF ABUSERS Identified By TEXAN CATHOLICS
When Daniel DiNardo was appointed Texas’ first Catholic cardinal in 2007, hundreds of Houstonians followed him to Rome, and nearly a thousand people greeted him with fanfare when he returned.
But when DiNardo traveled to Rome this month, the visit was more solemn. He and other U.S. Catholic leaders met with Pope Francis to discuss the church’s response to the latest clergy sex abuse scandal. And as DiNardo prepared for his audience with the pope, he himself was hit with allegations that he hadn’t done enough to stop a former Conroe priest accused by two people of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers some two decades ago.
Suddenly DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the leader of Galveston-Houston’s 1.7 million Catholics, faced questions about his handling of sex abuse allegations not long after he had criticized the “grave moral failures of judgment on the part of church leaders” in responding to the broader scandal.
The controversy has put an unwelcome spotlight on DiNardo, 69, a dynamic figure known for his oratory skills, approachability and conservative positions on social issues. Experts agree that DiNardo will be tested anew by the crisis given the recent accusations and his role leading the nation’s bishops.
Fourteen dioceses in Texas named those credibly accused of abuse. The only diocese not to provide names, Fort Worth, did so more than a decade ago and then provided an updated accounting in October.
There are only a handful of states where every diocese has released names and most of them have only one or two Catholic districts. Arkansas, for instance, is covered by the Diocese of Little Rock, which in September provided a preliminary list of 12 former priests, deacons and others. Oklahoma has two districts: The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is scheduled to publicly identify accused priests on Feb. 28 and the Diocese of Tulsa previously named two former priests accused of predatory behavior.
Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent who was hired by the bishops delegation to lead its child and youth protection efforts during the 2002 clergy sex abuse crisis in Boston, said DiNardo represents a major figure as the church seeks to rectify this issue.
“Cardinal DiNardo is responsible for dealing with the various leadership to help them to find solutions,” McChesney said. But “it’s more in the area of transparency and accountability where he will be very influential among his brother bishops.”
The scandal has reached the highest levels of the church, with Pope Francis even accused by a prominent archbishop with whom he’d clashed of covering up alleged abuse by a former U.S. cardinal. Francis said he would not utter a word about the allegations, which some say reflected the unhappiness of church conservatives with Francis’ more inclusive vision for the church.
As a spokesman of the U.S. bishops, DiNardo can be expected to play a key role setting the tone for how the church handles the crisis.
“He can’t tell all the other bishops what to do,” Reese said. “He can lead; he can try to persuade; he can encourage.”
DiNardo and the bishops have announced a plan that they say will make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.
Pope Francis has scheduled another meeting with top Roman Catholic officials for February.
“I think the American bishops have grown to understand, finally, that you can’t just cover these things up,” Father Reese said. “(DiNardo’s) speaking for the rest of the bishops who are frustrated that these abuse stories keep coming forward.”
DiNardo kept quiet on details of his recent meeting with the pontiff, but he told the National Catholic Register, a conservative Catholic publication, that he was “filled with hope.”
“He listened very deeply from the heart,” DiNardo said in a written statement. “It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.”
It’s unknown whether the men discussed recent claims by a man and a woman that DiNardo failed to take seriously allegations that they had been sexually assaulted by a former Conroe priest, Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez.
Conroe police this month arrested and charged La Rosa-Lopez, 60, with four counts of indecency with a child. The priest has denied the allegations.
The accusers told Conroe police recently that they were abused when La Rosa-Lopez was the parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has defended its handling of the matter, noting that the complaints, received 17 years apart, were both referred to Child Protective Services.
“We take these matters very seriously, which is why we reported the information we received from both individuals to CPS — and removed Father La Rosa-Lopez from ministry,” the statement said.
Michael Norris, leader of the Houston chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that while DiNardo has done good work in the community, he should be opening his books and sharing what he knows with his parishioners.
“He’s got blood on his hands, just like the rest of the bishops, archbishops and cardinals,” Norris said in a phone interview. “He portrays himself as this guy who’s trying to do the right thing. He might be a good man … but he’s just like the rest of them.”
DiNardo and the Archdiocese did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The move by Texas church leaders follows a shocking Pennsylvania report in August detailing seven decades of child sexual abuse by more than 300 predator priests. Furthermore, the Illinois attorney general reported last month that at least 500 Catholic clergy in that state had sexually abused children.
In the months after that report, about 50 dioceses and religious provinces have released the names of nearly 1,250 priests and others accused of abuse. Approximately 60 percent of them have died. About 30 other dioceses are investigating or have promised to release names of credibly accused priests in the coming months.
In Texas, the Diocese of Dallas and some others relied on retired police and federal investigators to review church files and other material to substantiate claims of abuse. It’s not clear whether any of the names released Thursday could result in local prosecutors bringing criminal charges. The majority of those identified have since died. Some investigations dated back to 1950 while other reviews, as in the case of the Diocese of Laredo, only went to 2000 because that’s when that diocese was established. Of the 286 men named in Texas, 172 have died, a percentage comparable with the national tally.
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