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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Monday, February 21, 2011

Group blasts Omaha archbishop over predator

Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 862 7688 home, 314 503 0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)

A lengthy article in a Texas newspaper reveals that last year, Omaha Archbishop George Lucas kept silent about child sex abuse allegations against a Catholic priest instead of warning police, prosecutors and parents about him.

Lucas met with a Nebraska man who reported that his son had been molested by Fr. John N. Fiala, who now faces criminal charges of molesting a boy in Texas and trying to hire a “hit man” to kill him. At the time the victim’s father met with Lucas, Fiala was not behind bars, so Lucas should have erred on the side of children’s safety. But he did what Catholic officials have done for centuries – put children in harm’s way by staying silent about credible child sex abuse allegations against a priest.

Shame on Lucas for his self-serving and cowardly secrecy. He should publicly apologize to his flock, and to Fiala’s victims, and explain his reckless and callous wrong doing. Lucas should also use his vast recourses – archdiocesan website, parish bulletins, church websites and pulpit announcements – to beg victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to contact police so that Fiala might be successfully prosecuted and kept away from kids.

Time and time again since 2002, America’s Catholic bishops have pledged to be “open and transparent” in pedophile priests cases. Lucas violated that promise.

Lucas “did hire an investigator who made a report and sent it to the Edwards County Sheriff’s Office,” but that’s required by the national church abuse policy.

(The article also says that “Fiala, who was born and raised in Omaha, was drawn to the Catholic Church in the seventh grade, when he met Fr. Daniel Herek, who later became an infamous convicted child sex offender in Nebraska.”)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, peterisely@yahoo.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)

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THE CHURCH AND THE PRIEST

Accusations of abuse ignored

BY ABE LEVY, San Antonio Express News - alevy@express-news.net

By the time Father John Fiala arrived at a West Texas parish in 2005, he had amassed a two-decade ministry record so troublesome that Catholic leaders were feuding over ways to wash their hands of him.

Parishioners in Nebraska had told him to stay away from their adolescent sons. A psychologist said he was narcissistic, naïve and displayed potentially harmful sexuality.

Catholic authorities said Fiala deceived them about his behavior, yet he was transferred from parish to parish. He was suspended and not allowed to work as a priest in Nebraska. He later was reinstated in Texas.

Documents obtained by the San Antonio ExpressNews reveal a rocky odyssey for a priest whose career began inconspicuously in the Midwest and collapsed with criminal charges and a lawsuit alleging the rape of a 16-year-old boy in Rocksprings.

The youth sued Fiala last spring. Months later, Fiala was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting him and a Dallas County charge accusing Fiala of soliciting a hit man to kill the teenager.

Victims groups say Fiala’s case amounts to another sex-abuse cover-up by the Catholic Church and a failure to uphold landmark 2002 reforms by U.S. bishops that called for greater transparency and zero tolerance for abuse.

The trail of complaints against Fiala began in the 1980s. In Nebraska, a businessman claimed Fiala targeted his eighth-grade son in 1988. The father, who the Express-News is not naming to protect his son’s identity, says Catholic supervisors broke promises then to ban the priest from all ministry with children and adolescents.

“I have no idea — I shudder to think — how many other children (Fiala) has harmed since 1988,” the man stated in a 2010 affidavit letter to Texas authorities after the Rocksprings teen filed suit. “My church could have prevented any further harm if they would have acted responsibly, but they chose not to.”

Fiala’s attorney did not return calls for comment. Fiala denied sexual misconduct throughout the documents. Last month, the Archdioceses of San Antonio and Omaha, Fiala’s religious order and the Diocese of Corpus Christi announced settlements with the Rocksprings teenager.

The documents raise serious questions about their role in supervising Fiala and map out the same type of cover-up of abusive priests by Catholic hierarchy in decades past, said David Clohessy of St. Louis, the national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“When child-molesting clerics are caught, church officials flee like rats from a sinking ship, each one distancing himself as much as possible from the criminal,” he said. “Top church supervisors pretend to be powerless while splitting hairs and passing the buck to others.

Early complaints

Fiala, who was born and raised in Omaha, was drawn to the Catholic Church in the seventh grade, when he met a priest who wrote a letter of recommendation for him to enter the seminary.

The priest, Daniel Herek, later became an infamous convicted child sex offender in Nebraska.

After Fiala was ordained in 1984 in Omaha, he quickly earned a reputation for disregarding parents banning him from their teen sons.

At his first parish, St. Columbkille, Fiala angered a single mom who accused him of taking her sons on unapproved shopping trips to rent R-rated videos and buy posters of halfnaked women. He also ignored her warning not to lend one son money to buy a car, according to a letter the mother wrote to Fiala’s superiors.

David Orso was a 13-year-old altar boy from another singlemother household at the same parish. Fiala promoted him to head altar server and helped him skip class and take frequent trips to a video arcade and 24-hour diner, Orso said.

Orso told the Express-News in an interview that he wanted his name revealed to publicize his case and to expose what went wrong.

Fiala provided him and other boys liquor, beer and cigars when he was alone with them in his rectory, Orso said.

Often, he dressed down to his underwear to wrestle with them, Orso said, and initial jokes about homosexual acts turned into real offers for sex.

One pivotal night, after heavy drinking at the rectory, Fiala “professed his love for me,” said Orso, now 38.

His complaints to officials were “shrugged off” as immaturity, Orso said, after his mom confronted them.

In 2002 — the same year U.S. bishops met in Dallas to crack down on the scandal of abusive priests, Orso filed a complaint with the Omaha archdiocese.

Only after the Texas lawsuit and subsequent questions by the Express-News did the archdiocese make Orso’s complaint public.

After Orso complained, the archdiocese reached an undisclosed settlement with him last August.

Parent: broken promise

Such behavior allegedly continued at Fiala’s next parish, St. Joan of Arc in Omaha.

The priest, then an assistant pastor and religious instructor for the parish school, took boys on questionable outings to an amusement park, according to the Omaha businessman’s affidavit letter. After he learned about the outings, the businessman said he ordered Fiala never to be alone with his son again. He said Fiala ignored him. He visited the family’s home when the man was away on business, the letter said, and sent the man’s wife on mock “missions” for a Marianist group led by Fiala.

In June 1988, police from the Omaha suburb of Ralston called the man while he was out of town, the man said, telling him his son was in a parked car at midnight in a city park and on the priest’s lap. Fiala had told police he was teaching the boy to drive.

“Why the police did not arrest him on the spot, I don’t know, but they did not,” said the businessman, who did not return an e-mail and phone messages seeking further comment.

The man confronted Fiala, who gave a poor explanation, the man stated in his affidavit.

It prompted a meeting with the parish president and pastor and Omaha Archbishop Daniel Sheehan. The man said he demanded Fiala never be allowed to minister to minors, and Sheehan agreed.

The archbishop, now deceased, removed Fiala from the parish and sent him for treatment. The pastor said Fiala would be forever stripped of his priestly duties, the businessman recalled, feeling reassured.

But in a May 27, 1988, letter to Fiala, Sheehan explained the plan was to reassign the priest after therapy. Records show Fiala was sent to at least three treatment centers known to treat abusive priests.

Last spring, the businessman met with Omaha Archbishop George Lucas, who offered counseling to his son but said the archdiocese had no record of the 1988 meeting. Deacon Tim McNeil, current chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said the lack of records inhibited it from publicizing the man’s complaint. It did hire an investigator who made a report and sent it to the Edwards County Sheriff’s Office.

The archdiocese settled the Texas lawsuit because “it was unclear what was shared” about Fiala’s background when he transferred to a Texas-based religious order, McNeil said.

“I would hope that (the businessman) wasn’t misled (in 1988),” McNeil said, “but I don’t have any documentation or records about what was said to him, and I wish I did.”

The man’s former parish president issued an affidavit affirming this account.

Ralston police told the man, the Express-News and the archdiocesan investigator they have no record on Fiala.

However, the investigator made the request in person and observed a receptionist print documents from a computer, according to his report. She consulted with the Ralston police chief and then told the investigator she “could not confirm nor deny” having information on Fiala.

A hot potato

Fiala also worried psychologists.

He “lacks mature judgment and is impulsive,” one hired by the Omaha archdiocese reported in 1988. He “finds himself drawn very easily into dealing with young men. At this point, I perceive that that is out of a sense of him wanting to be of assistance to them, but he is certainly very sexually naïve.”

The medical director of St. Luke Institute in Maryland echoed the sentiment that same year.

“We do believe that his lack of awareness about his own sexuality poses hazards for him in the future,” the institute reported, urging longer residential treatment.

Fiala sparred with former Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss in 1995 over his mandate for the priest to undergo six weeks of residential treatment at St. Michael’s Community in St. Louis.

Finally, Curtiss suspended Fiala as a priest that year after Fiala resisted. Fiala lost an appeal to the Vatican seeking to reverse the suspension.

Among Curtiss’ concerns were letters ripping Fiala for mismanaging a rural parish, St. Joseph, north of Omaha, in 1995. The complaints said Fiala often slept into the late morning, drew pictures of Mickey Mouse at a liturgy meeting and failed to check mail, pay bills or visit the sick. He also was accused of staying up late playing video games, sometimes with young people.

“Please help this man. He is not living a normal, healthy life,” a parishioner wrote.

Fiala’s dean, Father Frank Lordemann, called for his removal. Lordemann cited posters of Disney characters around Fiala’s residence, as well as Star Trek memorabilia and children’s toys in his bedroom.

“Of course, you are aware of the previous problems in his previous assignment,” Lordemann wrote Curtiss. “I know it is not easy to make decisions like this but we do need to protect the Church.”

Fiala gave Curtiss an out, requesting a transfer in late 1995 to the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. The religious order’s Robstown-based U.S. leader declined comment for this report.

But according to correspondence and memos, Catholic leaders battled one another to avoid responsibility for him: Former Corpus Christi Bishop Rene Gracida permitted him to minister in 1996 but reversed himself two years later amid complaints of “imprudent behavior” with youth at a Beeville parish. The order instructed him to return to the Omaha archdiocese.

Fiala reported the complaint was retracted and asked for reinstatement. In 1999, the order granted him full membership but in 2003 invalidated it, citing a failure to make mandatory lifelong vows and an investigation of misconduct in Omaha, where he was told again to return. The Omaha archdiocese sent the order 30 pages to prove Fiala was properly transferred and should not be returned.

The order’s founder, in a 2010 affidavit, blamed a former Omaha chancellor for describing Fiala’s record in Nebraska as free of any misconduct and calling him suitable for a transfer in a 1995 phone conversation.

By 2004, Fiala demanded the order resume his financial support and lift his suspension from public ministry or risk a lawsuit.

An open door

Meanwhile, Fiala moved to a parish in Gillespie County and applied to the San Antonio archdiocese.

Fiala’s order quickly cleared a path for transfer, recommending him in a Dec. 14, 2004, letter as in good standing and never “charged or convicted of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior with a minor.”

In Fiala’s application to the archdiocese, he made reference to a 30-year-old man who claimed, “I said something inappropriate” to him in 1986.

The man disappeared before it could be vetted, Fiala wrote.

Because the order said Fiala was free of any past misconduct, the San Antonio archdiocese said the application was not a red flag to press deeper.

Since then, the archdiocese has cut its ties with Fiala’s religious order, and it asked the order’s lone remaining priest to leave his post in Harper.

In June 2005, former San Antonio Archbishop José Gomez tapped Fiala to head three congregations, including Sacred Heart of Mary Parish in Rocksprings. There, Fiala’s troubles returned in August 2008. At first, the family of the Rocksprings teen accused him of custodial interference.

Gomez ordered an investigation of Fiala for suspected “unbecoming behavior with minors” on Oct. 7, 2008. Later that month, Gomez terminated him from the archdiocese. The archdiocese has maintained it did not receive any claim of sexual misconduct by Fiala until the youth filed the civil lawsuit.

“I want to get back and serve God’s people,” Fiala told Gomez in a letter asking for review.

In 2009, Fiala sought refuge in a residential program sponsored by the Society of St. Pius X based in Kansas City, Kan., to teach priests the traditional Latin Mass. A priest from Beeville wrote a flattering letter for his application, which again denied any past misconduct.

A police task force arrested him in Kansas last year.

But not before Fiala tried to re-enter the Omaha archdiocese, the same place he was ordained and where a frustrated parishioner only a few years later would plead for the hierarchy to put a stop to him.

“Even with the shortage of priests, (Fiala) is a poor substitute,” the church member wrote. “I will never understand why you put him in a parish, from one to another . . . now, back again to start up all over again. Do something about this before it is too late.”


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org