News Analysis

Was a dramatic police raid in the Diocese of Dallas really necessary?

(CNS)

Earlier this month dozens of polices officers, some dressed in SWAT gear, descended on the office of the Diocese of Dallas. The police were seeking records that they claim were withheld by the diocese, making the raid necessary.

But Dallas Bishop Edward Burns has criticised the raid as an unnecessary show of force. He said in a statement that a subpoena would have sufficed.

“In reality, the diocese cannot turn over what it does not have,” he said. “All of the files for the names in the affidavit have been turned over, and the diocese was working directly with police on this, spending hours combing through thousands of files, some of which were decades old.”

According to the affidavit by Dallas Police Detective David Clark, the diocese had withheld information related to five priests, Fr Edmundo Paredes, Fr Richard Thomas Brown, Fr Alejandro Buitrago, Fr William Joseph Hughes Jr and Fr Jeremy Myers, and on those grounds a search warrant was issued.

“That the Dallas Police Department now has the Church’s records is a necessary step forward and one that all of us should recognise as a proper step to ensure that an impartial source is vetting available facts and pursuing justice,” wrote the Dallas Morning News in an editorial.

But in a statement two days after the raid, Bishop Burns said: “Despite months of working with members of the Dallas Police Department and civil officials with respect to the release of our list of credible allegations on January 31, 2019, some members of the Police Department still felt it necessary to write the affidavit and institute this raid.”

He added that the five priests were reported to police, and all were known to them before the raid. The search warrant sought information related to the Diocesan Review Board’s proceedings, which decides whether priests were fit for service.

This process occurs after an allegation is reported to authorities, Bishop Burns said, but it is possible that the facts generated by this board are germane to police investigations.

At issue are 51 pages pertaining to a reported instance of abuse. The police asked the diocese for the missing pages, and, “only after that inquiry did the diocese reveal 51 pages had been left out which included one victim’s claim of sex abuse. The diocese provided those pages three weeks later,” according to CBS’s description of the affidavit.

But Bishop Burns said: “To imply that these documents were intentionally withheld in any capacity is to truly misrepresent the nature of our correspondence with the Dallas Police Department. In the case of many of the accused, the diocese had even sought to help find more information not in its possession, tracking down dozens upon dozens of witnesses dating back decades so that additional information might be discovered by the Dallas Police.”

The two accounts of events are not easy to reconcile. Local columnist Jim Schutze wrote: “The bishop’s explanation suggests that maybe another entire list could be compiled of priests who were accused not credibly but semi-credibly – credibly enough for the cops to investigate. And that sure feels like something for the cops to determine, not the Church.”

The previous bishop of Dallas was Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who is now prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life at the Vatican. He had once worked with the disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The two shared a house for six years in Washington, with Farrell serving as his auxiliary bishop. He was also a top administrator in the Legion of Christ, whose founder Marcial Maciel was a sexual abuser. He strongly denies knowing of any allegations against either McCarrick or Maciel before their downfalls.

One of the parishes raided in Dallas was St Cecilia Catholic Church, where Fr Paredes, one of the five, had been for a time. Its current pastor, Fr Martin Moreno, told his congregation during Sunday Mass that “everything that I have, I have given police,” according to the Dallas Morning News. “The peace that comes from transparency, nobody can take that from you.”

In addition to the diocesan offices and St Cecilia’s, the police raided a storage warehouse. The diocese covers an eight-county region in North Texas.

The Dallas raid has echoes of a similar one last November in Houston, in which local police from Conroe, Texas, raided the chancery. In details reported this month, the police used a lockpick to get into the diocesan vault. That means that in the past six months, the diocesan offices of two prominent bishops – one the chairman of the US bishops’ conference, and the other the former see of a man currently in charge of a major dicastery, have been raided by Texas police.