DA says Dallas diocese won't be charged
Bishop pleased after grand jury finds abuse claims
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
By BROOKS EGERTON / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill announced Monday that
he will not bring charges against local Catholic leaders over their
handling of sexual misconduct allegations.
A special grand jury impaneled in February "has found no evidence
of criminal wrongdoing on the part of the diocese or its officials,"
the district attorney said in a news release.
Mr. Hill would say little about the five-month investigation, citing
state laws on grand jury secrecy.
"We conducted a very thorough and intensive investigation,"
he said through spokeswoman Rachel Horton.
Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann, who recently testified before the
grand jury, said the announcement vindicates church leadership.
"I am pleased that the investigation has been concluded and
the findings confirm our position that there has been no wrongdoing
by the Diocese of Dallas or its officials in reporting cases of
child abuse," he said, according to a bulletin posted Monday
evening on the diocesan newspaper's Web site.
Diocese officials did not respond to interview requests. They previously
have said that they learned their lesson from a series of lawsuits
in the 1990s that accused them of concealing abuse and that cost
the diocese more than $30 million in payments to victims.
Diocesan leaders have stressed that all church staff members and
volunteers who work with children now undergo background checks
and "safe environment" training designed to prevent abuse.
"The Dallas Catholic Diocese and Bishop Charles Grahmann have
been unjustly maligned by critics," church attorney Jim Burnham
told the diocesan newspaper in March.
The district attorney's office is continuing its prosecution of
the Rev. Matthew Bagert, a Grand Prairie priest whose February arrest
on child pornography charges helped trigger the broader investigation.
Father Bagert was not asked to testify before the special grand
jury, said his attorney, Patrick McLain.
"I think there's still the possibility that this thing could
rear its head again," the lawyer said, referring to prosecutors'
broader investigation. "I know they haven't gotten to the bottom
"I don't know whether they're interested in looking into the
conduct of others, whether they're related to Father Matt or not."
Mr. McLain, who is Catholic and a former federal prosecutor, expressed
dismay at the management of his denomination.
"There's just a lot of rot," he said. "I don't know
if there's anyone interested, outside the Catholic faithful, in
cleaning it up."
Father Bagert, 36, is free on bail and has been suspended from
ministry. He was arrested in February after the associate pastor
he supervised saw images of naked boys described by authorities
as being as young as 4 on Father Bagert's church computer.
The associate pastor notified diocesan leaders, who alerted Grand
Prairie police. A supervisor of that investigation has described
the diocese as cooperative.
Shortly after the arrest, a Rockwall priest resigned from his church
after some parishioners accused him of protecting a lay aide who
was serving probation for indecent exposure.
The priest, the Rev. William "Bill" Richard, had previously
worked at a Catholic high school in Dallas, where he was accused
in a lawsuit of sexually harassing boys. He denied wrongdoing, and
the accusations weren't reported until this year.
The harassment allegations, combined with Father Bagert's arrest,
led the district attorney to say he was suspicious of the diocese's
2002 claim that it had no one in ministry with "any indication
of violations of state laws relating to minors."
Father Bagert and the Rev. Ramon Alvarez, head priest at Cathedral
Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, helped lead a petition drive
supporting Bishop Grahmann in 2003 after lay people criticized the
bishop's management of abuse cases and urged him to quit.