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Inconsistent Reporting by Catholic Dioceses in Texas

May 23, 2019

On October 10, 2018 the public heard from His Eminence Daniel Cardinal Dinardo via a video from the Vatican that all 15 Catholic Dioceses in Texas would release the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

At the time, Cardinal Dinardo gave very little detail about the process or timeline, only saying the lists would be released "before the end of January 2019."

On January 31, 2019 just in the nick of time to keep his promise, all 15 Catholic Dioceses in Texas released their lists by posting them in various formats on their diocesan websites. As with most things relating to the Church and disclosure of sexual abuse, it is the information that is not shared that is the most telling.

There were 302 names released from the 15 dioceses in Texas, but that number is a tad misleading because 17 of the priests named are also included in other diocesan lists. When accounting for the 17 duplicated names, the unique number of credibly accused sex offender priests in Texas is 279 (with at least four named on dioceses outside of Texas as well). A comparison of the data reported for those duplicated priests shows that the dioceses had very disparate approaches to transparency. 

Credible: A Reason to Believe

The 15 dioceses allegedly did not communicate with each other as they prepared their lists and it shows in the lack of consistency with regard to the data reported, the formatting, the methodology and definition of terms. With one exception: the definition of "credible" is the only field that has a similar definition across the dioceses that included it (Corpus Christi, Laredo and Tyler did not include their definition of credible). The common definition used by Texas dioceses is that a credible accusation is defined as one where there is reason to believe the allegation is true. 

The dioceses also specified that the party responsible for determining credibility is the Diocesan Review Board. The Diocesan Review Boards were created in 2002 and are composed of volunteers, primarily lay people, who review claims of sexual abuse of minors by individuals serving in ministry. Here's the fine print: the final determination of credibility is made by the Bishop after receiving a recommendation from the review board.

 

The Bishop has the final say. That means the review boards could do all the heavy lifting and wade through the horrific details, make a recommendation to the Bishop and he could decide not to accept their recommendation. This process is confidential, of course, and it is not something that has a standard applicable across cases. It is an ad hoc process and the Bishop's response to the review board recommendation has no known standard. When there are no standards to adhere to, no bar to pass, then accountability is not possible. The target is constantly moving, so in reality, there is no standard and no one is accountable. 

Substantiated: More than Reasonable

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston (ADGH), goes a step further in the narrative that accompanies its clergy disclosure list and adds that a determination of credible for the purposes of this list, "is a pastoral judgment and is not the equivalent of a finding of guilt by a jury or judge in a court of law... it does not establish that the allegation is substantiated or proven."

 

The fact that the ADGH includes language that is decidedly legal in nature is not surprising since diocesan priest Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez was arrested September 11, 2018 and on May 2, 2019 a grand jury indicted him on two of the four counts of indecency with a child. Two other charges are pending against him still. 

As the president of the USCCB, Cardinal Dinardo and his Archdiocese are under an intense spotlight, and things went from bad to worse for him when the Montgomery County District Attorney raided the Archdiocese headquarters in downtown Houston on November 28, 2018.

 

With a criminal trial looming and the humiliation of a raid that resulted in the DA removing secret files from the ADGH offices, it's no surprise that lawyers got involved to fine tune the language and mitigate liability when Dinardo released the list of credibly accused sex offenders. Dinardo said in a December 2018 interview with a local Houston reporter, and practicing Catholic, Bill Balleza that the definition of credibly accused was, “being worked out in terms of our lawyers even now as we speak.” 

The ADGH doesn't explain the difference between credible and substantiated and that distinction has been a continuing issue for the United Stated Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  It was a topic of conversation at the Fall General Assembly in Baltimore in November 2018, but no concrete definition was determined. 

The Diocese of Green Bay Wisconsin clarifies the meaning of substantiated: An allegation is categorized to be “substantiated” when, based upon the facts and circumstances of the case, there is a reasonable cause to suspect that the sexual abuse of a minor has occurred."

In other words, substantiated has a higher burden of proof and requires evidence, whereas credible means there is reason enough to believe the accusation is true. A slippery distinction at best with zero standard or accountability. 

Standard of Proof & Disorganization

Despite the uniformity of how the dioceses defined "credible," 10 dioceses included a further definition of "Standard of Proof." The Standard of Proof varied widely from, "As defined in the Texas Penal Code" to "Constitutes a violation of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church."

 

The Standard of Proof is an interesting addendum to the definition of credible which is predicated on proof. So, despite the ostensible consistency with the definition of credible, the dioceses actually maintain a wide berth in determining what is and isn't "credible" because they're dependent on their own stated standards of proof. Scroll through the dioceses and their common data elements below to view the variance in definitions and reporting.  

Is it possible that this disorganization is actually some sort of Machiavellian device of the dioceses to deliver a set of lists so disjointed and inconsistent that the public is unable to wade through them with any clarity?

 

If it was not intentional, then we have a host of other problems, like, how could these dioceses not have the same data on a priest who served in several across Texas? One prime example is Rev. Al Prado, OMI, listed as an offender in five dioceses: Amarillo, Corpus Christi, San Angelo, San Antonio and Victoria. Yet, those dioceses report different data: some list his date of birth, some don't, some list his ordination year, some don't, some list his status one way and some list it differently. Are the dioceses really this unorganized? 

 

It's virtually impossible that each diocese in which Prado worked does not have his date of ordination. So we are left to infer reasons why some dioceses omitted very basic data: they didn't want to make it easy to identify the priests.  

Inconsistent Reporting Data

The tables below show the fields and various data points that were included in the clergy disclosure lists across the 15 dioceses in Texas. The tables indicate if the data are included by a particular diocese or not. 

 

For example, some of the dioceses display the total number of priests at the top of the page (Amarillo, Brownsville, El Paso) making the information quickly accessible, some dioceses do not give the total number and readers must manually count.

 

It is a frustrating exercise to aggregate the data from the 15 dioceses and have such gaping holes and inconsistencies. A project of this magnitude, meaning not large considering only 278 priests were named, would have been best served by a consistent template, universal reporting strategy and central database. But then the dioceses couldn't obfuscate and make it more difficult for victims to find and identify priests from their past.

Most notably absent: any information on the victims. These clergy disclosure lists are a prime example of an organization covering its own liabilities. 

Scroll down in each table to see all the dioceses and their reported data.

Table 1: Introductory Data in Diocesan Disclosure Lists 

Table 2: Definition of Terms and Data Regarding the Accusations 

Table 3: Data Included About the Accused Clergy

What Should The Dioceses Report?

It is important to note that reporting data of this nature is not a new concept to the Church. The men who prepared these reports in the Texas Dioceses have plenty of examples from the USCCB itself. In light of the plethora of well known and documented reports on sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy, the Texas Dioceses' disparate reporting, omission of pertinent data and sloppiness across diocese seems intentionally obfuscating.  

The examples provided by the USCCB come from the John Jay Report, formally known as The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, is a report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice commissioned by the USCCB in 2004. Published in June 2004, it covered the years 1950-2002. The John Jay College also published a follow-up report in 2011 that addressed the causes and context of sexual abuse

 

Regardless of the validity of the John Jay Report that relied on self-reported data from the dioceses in the U.S., the report is the standard for the USCCB. It is well known by the Bishops and its results have been reviewed ad nauseam. The dioceses could have, and should have, followed the template set by the John Jay Report and included the following: 

Data on the victims: gender, age at time of abuse, duration of abuse, age at time of allegation to diocese.

 

Data on the abusers: date of birth, seminary attended, date of ordination, type of priest (order or diocesan), dates of assignments for each parish and diocese, dates of alleged abuse, number of accusations, criminal charges and/or convictions. 

 

Diocesan awareness of the problem: date accusation received by diocese. 

 

Diocesan response to allegations: clearly defined action regarding the priest (i.e. sent to treatment center, removed from active ministry with the length of time imposed, stripped of faculties, laicized), disclosure of any type of civil settlement including diocesan paid therapy. 

Had the Texas Dioceses provided the same disclosure that the USCCB commissioned in the John Jay Report, Catholics in Texas would have reason to believe that the Texas Catholic Bishops Conference (TCBC) is not just maintaining the status quo, but is actually committed to addressing the sex crimes they have enabled and helped covered up. As the disclosure lists are now, they are more of the same: covering their asses by omitting and hiding relevant data. 

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