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Brownsville Diocese One of Several Not Releasing Names

Dec 30, 2002 | The Brownsville Herald

The Diocese of Brownsville is not the only diocese that has chosen to withhold the names of the review board for sexual allegations from the public.

Out of the eight Texas dioceses contacted by The Monitor, six dioceses are not releasing the names of board members.

The Galveston Diocese and San Angelo Diocese released the names of members on their review boards.

"The review board decision and the bishop’s decision was to not hide the names," said Peter Micale, communications director for the San Angelo diocese. "The review board is not anonymous and we’re very happy to mention names."

The dioceses of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and Lubbock did not return requests for information.

In the San Antonio Archdiocese, a long-standing policy has kept the names of the review board private.

"We feel that up until now, and it’s still open to discussion, we didn’t want those people to be compromised by undue outside pressure," said Pat Rodgers, director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. "This way, they are able to conduct that investigation without that kind of outside pressure."

In the Corpus Christi diocese, the names of review board members have been withheld because of media inquiries, said Marty Wind, communications director for the diocese.

"They don’t want to be in the media spotlight. That’s the main reason why. They are serving in a very unfortunate, very horrible thing we’re dealing with," Wind said.

In November, the Brownsville diocese, which covers a significant portion of South Texas, decided to dissolve a review board whose members were made public in favor of a review board with anonymous members, said Brenda Riojas, spokeswoman for the Diocese.

Board members indicated that they did not want their names made public and would resign if names were made public, Riojas said.

The only information available about the members of the diocesan review board was that the five-member board includes a priest and four lay people, two men and two women.

The members include a licensed legal expert, a mother, and two licensed experts in therapy and psychiatry, Riojas said.

By dissolving the old board, who had their names made public, the Brownsville Diocese may be losing the trust of parishoners, said the Rev. Jerry Frank, pastor at Holy Spirit in McAllen.

"This is the kind of thing that doesn’t build trust," Frank said. "They’re trying to build trust and things like that and the lack of transparency makes it difficult."

Dioceses across the United States received specific criteria for establishing review boards in November from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The criteria, called "Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons," was approved Dec. 8 by the Vatican.

Preliminary descriptions of the board put forth in June at the bishop’s conference differed from the recently accepted norms.

Critics have said that the recently accepted norms are weaker than those outlined before.

"The lay board is no longer authoritative. It’s going to be confidential," said Susan Troy, a founding member of the Boston-based Voices of the Faithful, a group of Catholic parishioners that formed to encourage transparency in the Roman Catholic Church.

"We’re going back to the culture of secrecy that many believe led to the crisis," Troy said.

The June outline, found in the bishops’ charter released during the Dallas conference, describes a stronger board than what was approved in mid-December.

"The board will assist the diocesan/eparchial bishop in assessing allegations and fitness for ministry and will regularly review diocesan/eparchial policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors," the June charter read.

In descriptions found in the recently approved norms, the review board "will function as a confidential consultative body to the bishop/eparch in discharging his responsibilities."

The change in wording is disappointing, Frank said.

"They moved from the language being strong to being consultative and confidential," he said.

Tony Ponciano, a McAllen resident and lifelong Catholic, said the recent actions of the Brownsville Diocese are troubling.

Ponicano was in the McAllen Memorial Library reading the newspaper, something he tries to do every day.

National articles about priest abuse are troubling, he said. If Ponciano still had young children in the church, he said he would have second thoughts about attending services.

Ponciano said he has also been worried about the recent investigation of the murder of Irene Garza, a McAllen woman who was killed in 1960, and a connection with John Feit, a former Rio Grande Valley priest.

Feit, who had pleaded guilty to the rape of an Edinburg woman, is the last known person to see Garza alive. The case is still open and under investigation by the McAllen police department.

The Brownsville Diocese’s refusal to release names of the review board is troubling and may lead some people to believe the diocese is trying to hide something, he said.

"If they’re not going to give the names or information like that, that’s not going to help the public," Ponciano said. "What are they hiding? They shouldn’t be hiding."

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