Faces DA Inquiry
Handling of abuse claims targeted; church pledges
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
By BROOKS EGERTON / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill is launching a
broad criminal investigation of how Catholic Bishop Charles
Grahmann and his staff have handled allegations of sexual
misconduct, officials confirmed Monday.
The goal is to determine whether the Dallas Diocese "has
received any allegations of abuse by members of the clergy
that have not subsequently been reported to law enforcement,"
said Rachel Horton, a spokeswoman for Mr. Hill.
She said two recent disclosures made prosecutors suspicious
of the diocese's written insistence, in 2002, that it had no
one in the ministry with "any indication of violations
of state laws relating to minors."
First, a Rockwall pastor who announced his resignation Sunday
had been accused in sworn statements in the early 1990s of
sexually harassing boys at jobs in Dallas and Plano, The Dallas
Morning News reported Monday. Accusers said they saw no sign
that the diocese investigated the allegations or reported
them to state authorities.
And last week, Grand Prairie police arrested a pastor on
charges of possessing child pornography. The bishop's spokesman,
Bronson Havard, has said the diocese first got evidence of
the priest's possible misconduct a few weeks ago and promptly
Mr. Havard initially limited his comment Monday evening to
this e-mail message: "We welcome the DA's help and will
cooperate fully with him."
Later, the diocesan newspaper he edits, Texas Catholic, said
the district attorney is investigating allegations made by
journalists who are "strident critics" of the church.
The criminal investigation "will show the diocese has
fully complied with the law," according to Texas Catholic's
The Rockwall and Grand Prairie priests have declined to comment.
The Dallas Diocese joins a list of about a dozen dioceses
nationwide that have faced investigations into whether they
covered up abuse. From Boston to St. Louis to Los Angeles,
in recent years prosecutors have impaneled grand juries, subpoenaed
church records and deposed religious leaders.
Those inquiries have not led to prosecutions of any Catholic
bishops who were still running dioceses. Some investigations
ground to a halt because complaints were too old to prosecute;
others led to charges against individual priests.
In late 2003, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati pleaded no contest
to five misdemeanor counts of failing to report abuse in the
late 1970s and early 1980s when a previous bishop was
Elsewhere, the dioceses of Manchester, N.H., and Phoenix
struck deals to avert charges in exchange for providing access
to church files and pledging specific reforms.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said
the Dallas investigation is the first to be triggered by revelations
about clergymen who remained on duty after U.S. bishops adopted
national "zero tolerance" reforms in 2002.
"It's groundbreaking," SNAP leader David Clohessy
said. "So many prosecutors want to believe the church
has learned its lesson."
The district attorney's office said it would not limit its
investigation to the Rockwall and Grand Prairie cases.
Allegations about the diocese's handling of the Rockwall
priest might be too old to prosecute, said Ms. Horton, the
spokeswoman for Mr. Hill.
She would not discuss how prosecutors might proceed, beyond
saying that a grand jury could be involved.
"Obviously, the local police departments are the primary
investigative agencies in Dallas County, and we would encourage
any victim of crime to report to the police," a prepared
statement from Ms. Horton said.
"We would urge any victim of abuse by any member of
the clergy to report the matter directly to police,"
the statement said. "We would also ask that anyone who
has reported such abuse to the church in the past, that was
not subsequently reported to authorities, to come forward."
Ms. Horton particularly asked for help with the ongoing Grand
Prairie police investigation of the Rev. Matthew Bagert, whom
the bishop has suspended as pastor of Immaculate Conception
"We would ask that parents of any children who may have
had contact with this priest to talk to their children, and,
if any misconduct is revealed, report it to police immediately,"
her statement said.
Police say they found pictures of naked boys as young as
4 in Father Bagert's possession. Bishop Grahmann tearfully
asked Grand Prairie parishioners Sunday to forgive the priest.
National church policy bars anyone who has abused children
from ministry. It defines abuse as "behavior by which
an adult uses a minor as an object of sexual gratification,"
even if there is no physical contact or force.
The district attorney's office launched its investigation
after a prominent critic of Bishop Grahmann posted online
messages demanding action Monday morning.
"When will the district attorney finally get off his
duff and investigate ...?" D magazine publisher Wick
Allison wrote on his publication's blog.
Mr. Hill already had staff members researching a possible
investigation when Mr. Allison began commenting, Ms. Horton
Well-connected lay Catholics allied with Mr. Allison ran
a petition drive two years ago that sought, unsuccessfully,
to force the bishop from office. Some priests, including Father
Bagert, led a counter-petition movement.
Mr. Allison's frustration was echoed Monday night by Cliff
Allen, who alerted Bishop Grahmann's predecessor in 1989 that
a priest was having boys spend the night with him. That priest,
Rudy Kos, stayed on duty under Bishop Grahmann until 1992.
Mr. Hill's investigation "is only about five years too
late," Mr. Allen said. "Better late than never,
Bishop Grahmann has barred about 10 priests from ministry
because of sexual abuse. Some of them were allowed to resign
from their churches without parishioners' being told why.
The diocese and its insurers have paid tens of millions of
dollars to settle cover-up claims.
The district attorney's office has prosecuted and sent to
prison two of those men: Mr. Kos, who has since been expelled
from the priesthood, and the Rev. Emeh "Anthony"
Staff writer Reese Dunklin contributed to this report.
E-mail: [email protected]