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DiNardo denies mishandling priest abuse case and confession allegations

Cardinal DiNardo at the last bishops' general assembly in Baltimore (Getty)

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston described the AP's report as 'unprofessional, biased and one-sided'

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston disputed reports that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo mishandled a sexual abuse claim against a priest, and denied that the archdiocese had ever received reports that the accused priest violated canon law regarding the sacrament of penance.

“The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston categorically rejects the unprofessional, biased and one-sided reporting contained in today’s Associated Press story headlined ‘The Reckoning.’ At each step in this matter, Cardinal DiNardo has reacted swiftly and justly — and has always kept the welfare of the Pontikeses in mind. A number of the quotes attributed to the Cardinal are an absolute fabrication,” the archdiocese said in a June 4 statement.

The statement was a response to a June 4 story from the Associated Press, which reported the claims of a Texas woman, Laure Pontikes.

Pontikes said that DiNardo permitted his former vicar general, who she says sexually coerced her, to transfer to another diocese and continue in ministry, after she was promised that he would not be permitted to serve as a pastor.

The archdiocese said that after the woman reported a coercive sexual relationship with the priest, Msgr. Frank Rossi, she was promised by an archdiocesan official that he would not again be permitted to serve as a pastor.

In its statement, the archdiocese disputed that claim, saying that DiNardo “agreed not to reassign Monsignor Rossi in any capacity in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.”

In 2017, Rossi was permitted to be appointed a pastor in the Diocese of Beaumont, which neighbors the archdiocese. The archdiocese said that Rossi “completed his rehabilitation process and was recommended to be returned to active ministry by the professionals who assessed him” before he was permitted to be a pastor in the Beaumont diocese.

For its part, the Diocese of Beaumont said this week it was not informed of the allegations of the priest before he was appointed a pastor, and it removed him temporarily from his parish assignment.

The archdiocesan statement noted that Pontikes, who also claimed to have been pressured by Rossi to donate millions to Catholic causes, made a “demand for a $10 million payment” after reporting the allegation. Mediation regarding the matter is reportedly still ongoing.

Rossi’s relationship with Pontikes was reported to police in 2018, and is now under criminal investigation. In Texas, it is illegal for a member of the clergy to have a sexual relationship with a parishioner if that relationship involves abuse of office.

In comments to CNA Wednesday, the archdiocese also disputed claims that the priest attempted to absolve Pontikes sacramentally of sexual sins she confessed to committing with him, which is a serious canonical offense that can lead to excommunication. Such allegations are usually addressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“When Mrs. Pontikes first contacted the Archdiocese to make her allegation, she stated in the interview that she went to a priest twice for Confession about her relationship with Monsignor Rossi and when she was asked if this confessor was Monsignor Rossi, she stated that it was not. Subsequently, the same question was posed to Monsignor Rossi who stated that he did not hear Mrs. Pontikes’ confession after their inappropriate relationship began nor any time after it ended,” the archdiocese told CNA.

The AP reported that the allegation of attempted absolution is under a “Vatican” review, but sources close to the relevant Vatican offices have told CNA that they are not aware of any such review.

The archdiocese told CNA that “the recent assertion  is a new development which will be thoroughly reviewed in accordance with canon law.”

The archdiocese declined to answer additional questions from CNA regarding the precise nature of an anticipated “thorough review.”