This story has been updated with comments from Bishop Burns at a news conference at the parish on the evening of Aug. 19.
By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
Bishop Edward J. Burns has told parishioners at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Dallas that their former longtime pastor has been removed from ministry after being accused of sexual abuse and of theft at the parish.
In an address at Masses on Aug. 18 and 19, Bishop Burns said the diocese learned of the allegations of sexual abuse in February against Father Edmundo Paredes and that diocesan officials immediately filed a report with law enforcement agencies “so that an investigation could be launched.”
Father Paredes, who at that time had already been removed as pastor of the Oak Cliff parish during an investigation of theft of parish funds and had been suspended from his priestly duties, is believed to have fled the country, the bishop said.
Bishop Burns said the sexual abuse allegations came from three adults and said “the criminal acts occurred when they were in their mid-teens.” The allegations, he said, were found to be true.
On Saturday, Aug. 18, and on Sunday, Aug. 19, the bishop addressed St. Cecilia parishioners during Masses and later spoke to the media during a news conference at the parish.
He also clarified the timeline of events surrounding the former priest. He said that financial irregularities at the parish came to light in May 2017 and that the pastor was removed from the parish while a diocesan financial investigation began. During that investigation, the allegations of sexual misconduct arose in February 2018 and diocesan officials contacted law enforcement officials.
Bishop Burns said that the former priest had admitted to financial misconduct with certain funds at the parish while he was pastor, but that “irregularities were not found with funds from St. Cecilia Catholic School or funds donated for the rebuilding of the church following a 2007 fire.” He did not disclose the amount in dollars believed was stolen, saying that the investigation continues.
Bishop Burns told parishioners that the former priest is thought to be in the Philippines, his native country, but that authorities there have not been able to locate him. He said that the diocese is in the process of hiring a private investigator to try to locate Paredes.
Edmundo Paredes was born on Nov. 7, 1948, in the Philippines. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Dallas on June 1, 1985. He was named the parochial vicar, assistant, at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on June 25, 1985. He was named pastor of St. Cecilia on June 15, 1990 and served through June of last year when his priestly faculties were removed.
During this time he assumed leadership responsibilities beyond his parish, including serving on the priest personnel board and as head of one “deanery,” comprised of various parishes in a geographical area.
The news that Bishop Burns delivered at the Oak Cliff church over the weekend comes on the heels of the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania earlier in the week that detailed the abuse of 1,400 people by 300 clergy in six dioceses over a 70-year-old period. It also comes amid the fallout from the revelations of sexual misconduct by one of the U.S. Catholic church’s most-prominent leaders, former Cardinal Thomas McCarrick of Washington, D.C., earlier in his pastoral career in other parts of the country.
Bishop Burns, who on Aug. 14 addressed the media after the Pennsylvania grand jury report was made public, said that he was “embarrassed and sorrowful” and that some of the report’s details were “nauseating.” He renewed his pledge of transparency and said that he would be announcing other actions toward that goal after convening the Diocesan Review Board. This weekend, he repeatedly offered his apologies to the St. Cecilia community.
“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of these allegations,” the bishop told the St. Cecilia parishioners. “Our priority was to determine the truth and protect the victims who showed courage by coming forward. With the utmost sensitivity to victims, I have pledged to continue efforts of transparency and need to make you aware of this atrocious and sad event.
“I want to assure the entire community that we are working to find solutions to create a safer environment. I offer my heartfelt apologies that these crimes have happened in your parish and please know I am praying for all victims of sexual abuse and for all of you here in the St. Cecilia community.”
The bishop also said that anyone who has suffered abuse by church personnel to report it to law enforcement and to contact Mary Edlund, the diocese’s chancellor and the Victims Assistance Coordinator. She can be reached at 214-379-2819 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The bishop reassured the parishioners that he has confidence in Father Martin Moreno, who replaced Paredes as pastor, and Father Daniel Rendón, who recently was assigned as parochial vicar at the parish, and that they will bring “an element of healing in this parish.”
The two priests addressed parishioners at the Masses also, saying they would “get through the difficult times together.”
Bishop Burns said that he would offer in the near future more action plans of transparency and protections for a safe environment.
“My friends, as your shepherd and as your bishop I want you to know that I will do my utmost in protecting the flock, in defending the faith,” Bishop Burns said. “When I first came to this diocese and when I came to this parish I shared with you how absolutely impressed I am with the strength of the Catholic community.
“My friends, I want you to stay strong, stay strong in the faith, stay close to our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Do not let the sins of mortal man separate you from the Word made flesh or the celebration of the Eucharist or the Sacraments.”
Many parishioners were visibly shaken as they left the Masses.
“This was a big surprise,” said Sylvia Segura, who said she first got to know Father Paredes in the 1980s when her family were parishioners at Blessed Sacrament and then again at St. Cecilia when her daughters began attending the parish school. She had been interviewed by other media after one of the Masses, had been crying and was visibly shaken.
“I thought they were just going to announce about the Pennsylvania thing, but I did not expect this,” she said. “But we are strong Catholics. I think this is a strong religion that we have and we are going to continue to be Catholic. This is not going to change us. This is not going to break us from our faith. It has sustained us to this day and it will keep sustaining us.”
At the news conference at the parish on Aug. 19, the bishop reminded the media about his pledge of Aug. 14 of new initiatives that he would announce. He said that while the investigation of the Paredes case is not complete that he consulted with the Diocesan Review Board on Aug. 16 and told the members that he planned to deliver the news of the former pastor’s misdeeds to the St. Cecilia community on Aug. 18 and 19.
He also declined to say how the former pastor knew the victims, saying that he had pledged to “safeguard their anonymity” as requested. Nor did he elaborate if a settlement had been reached with the victims.
As for the amount of theft at the parish by the former pastor, diocesan officials said it was in the neighborhood of $60,000 to $80,000, but did not have a time frame of when that theft occurred.
The bishop said he realizes that events over the past several weeks surrounding the Catholic clergy have caused many people to question their Catholic faith.
“We recognize, too that, if we are ever going to rebuild trust or regain credibility those are by-products of doing what is right and we have to do what is right in all of this,” he said. “The bottom line is that the Diocese of Dallas can and will do better and we will work toward that end,” he said.
He said moving forward he would plan to do the following:
• Preside at a Ceremony of Sorrows at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in the near future
• Conduct four town hall meetings in various parts of the diocese and those will include a liturgy and a question and answer period.
• Expand safe environment protocols with wider participation from parishioners.
• Contract a researcher to look at the Pennsylvania grand jury report about the inefficiencies of safeguards at the six Catholic dioceses named in that report and compare those to where the Diocese of Dallas stands
• Ask priests in parishes throughout the Dallas diocese to lead parishioners in a recitation of the Rosary before each Mass in October, the Month of the Rosary, for the sanctification of priests and for vocations.
“It is not comfortable to come and stand as a shepherd before the parish community and tell them about the sins of one of their priests,” the bishop told reporters. “It is not comfortable for me to stand before the media and answer all these questions, but I must say that all this pales into comparison of knowing that I will have to stand before the judgment seat of God and answer to him as to how I shepherd the people faithfully here in the Diocese of Dallas.
“I am embarrassed and sorrowful that I have to be here,” he added, “but I recognize that being here and having these words and my presence with the parishioners is essential and it is necessary.”
Editor’s note: More to come in the Aug. 24 print edition of The Texas Catholic.