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Diocese ‘surprised’ by police search in abuse investigation

Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas at a press conference in 2018 (CNS)

Police execute search warrants at three sites in Dallas diocese

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Dallas has said they were surprised by a police search of three properties.

Police executed search warrants yesterday at three sites in the diocese, as part of an ongoing investigation of sexual abuse allegations into six current or former priests. One, who is accused of abusing three minors, is believed by police to have fled the country to his native Philippines.

Major Max Geron, who heads the Dallas Police Department’s special investigations division, told a press conference that detectives had held “a number of meetings” with diocesan officials in recent months, and that there had been “varying degrees of cooperation”. He added: “We believe that the execution of the warrants was wholly appropriate for the furtherance of the investigation.”

The police searched a pastoral centre, an offsite warehouse where diocesan records and documents are kept, and the offices of St Cecilia Catholic Church, where one of the accused priests, Fr Edmundo Paredes, was the pastor for nearly 20 years.

Geron declined to give specifics of the investigation, other than saying that “these investigations stem from additional allegations made after the case against Mr Paredes became public.”

Throughout the day, numerous plainclothes law enforcement officials were seen entering and exiting the main pastoral centre building. Marked police cars and a cargo truck blocked entrances to the garage and main parking area. As of early afternoon, nothing had been brought out of the building.

The issuance of search warrants in Dallas is one of two so-called raids at large diocesan offices in Texas. Last November, law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

The execution of the Dallas search warrants comes after months of reports from around the United States and the world about clergy sex abuse that have rocked the universal church and efforts to combat it locally and globally.

In August 2018, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania found that more than 300 priests and other church workers in six dioceses were linked to sex abuse claims by more than 1,000 victims over a 70-year period, and calls by numerous bishops and clergy across the country for due diligence and transparency.

Last summer in Dallas, shortly after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Bishop Burns addressed parishioners at St Cecilia Catholic Church in Oak Cliff to tell them that their former pastor, Fr Paredes, had been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of three minors in years past and that he also was suspected of theft of funds from the church.

Law enforcement officials have been looking for Father Paredes, who was on the list, but officials believe he may have fled to his native Philippines.

In January, Bishop Burns announced the names of 31 priests who had been “credibly accused” of allegations of sexual abuse of minors between 1950 to the present day. The list was developed after former law enforcement officials combed through more than 2,424 files of priests over a period of several months and in consultation with a separate Diocesan Review Board comprised of law enforcement, clinical psychology, law, and medicine. The announcement coincided with the simultaneous release of similar lists by most of the other 14 Catholic dioceses in Texas.

The Texas announcements preceded allegations of sexual abuse by now-defrocked Theodore McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington, who was a popular and influential prelate.

Adding to the controversy were questions as to when the Vatican, including Pope Francis, first knew about the allegations and whether Vatican officials ignored the claims.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report also raised questions about how Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the now-retired archbishop of Washington, handled some of abuse cases when he was bishop in Pittsburgh from 1988 until 2006.

In response to the report, the cardinal defended his actions as Pittsburgh’s bishop and said he had “established strong policies that addressed the needs of abuse survivors, removed priests from ministry and protected the most vulnerable in the community.”

In early May, Pope Francis released a document calling for new norms and protocols on how clergy abuse must be handled and reported globally. The document is the result of the conference that the pope called for in February with the heads of bishops’ conferences worldwide.

Bishop Burns has encouraged any additional victims of abuse by clergy to report it to law enforcement or by calling the Texas Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400 and contacting Barbara Landregan, the diocesan victims assistance coordinator, at (214) 379-2812 or [email protected]

David Sedeno is editor of The Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas