Meeting would address ‘abuse of power, clericalism and transparency’
By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
This story was updated at 10:24 a.m. Sept. 4 to include Bishop Edward J. Burns’ return visit to St. Cecilia Catholic Church on Sept. 2.
Bishop Edward J. Burns has asked Pope Francis for an Extraordinary Synod to address issues in the latest Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis, including “abuse of power, clericalism, accountability and the understanding of transparency in the Church.”
The letter, posted to the Diocese of Dallas’ website on Aug. 30, was signed by the bishop and priests who serve in leadership roles in various consultative bodies in the diocese, and was sent earlier in the day to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., so that it could be forwarded to the pope as soon as possible.
“The current crisis of sexual abuse by clergy, the cover-up by leaders in the church and the lack of fidelity of some have caused great harm,” the letter read. The letter asks that topics of the Extraordinary Synod, which is one that is not currently scheduled, include “the care and the safeguard of children and the vulnerable, outreach to victims, the identity and lifestyle of the clergy, the importance of healthy human formation within the presbyterate/religious community, etc.”
Bishop Burns, in a statement from the diocese, added that “we are working diligently at the local level to deal with these issues, but increasing accountability at all levels of the Church is of utmost importance.” The statement also said that the priests who signed the letter “believe a real solution must be found to the heinous issue of clergy abuse of minors.”
In a hastily called news conference in the late afternoon of Aug. 30, Bishop Burns told reporters that he did not know whether the letter would move the pope to call a synod, but said that numerous priests encouraged him to send it anyway.
Among the signers was Father Rudy Garcia, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco, who serves on the Presbyteral Council.
“It’s important to come together at this time of crisis in community of faith and respond to it through the lens of faith and with a firm resolve to create a safe environment for our young and vulnerable adults,” he said, adding that priests must go through the same Safe Environment training that lay individuals who work or volunteer in parishes and schools are required to do annually.
“I think the bishop does an excellent job in drawing the community together and addressing this difficult issue at this difficult time and marshalling us around a solid plan of spirituality and of guaranteeing the safety of our environment now and in the future,” he said.
The bishop’s call for the special synod follows a similar one from the bishop of Portsmouth, England, on Aug. 22 and weeks of news of clergy abuse, not only across the United States and abroad, but also within the Diocese of Dallas.
On Aug. 19, Bishop Burns told parishioners at St. Cecilia Catholic Church that their former pastor, Father Edmundo Paredes, had not only stolen church funds, but that he also had been accused of sexual misconduct by three individuals, later revealed to be three now-adult males, who said the abuse happened in their mid-teens more than a decade ago. The bishop said that those allegations were found to be credible. The former pastor, who had been at the parish for 27 years, is believed to have fled the country to his native Philippines and the diocese has hired a private investigator to try to locate him.
The news followed the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailing the abuse of more than 1,000 individuals by 300 clergy in six Pennsylvania dioceses over seven decades. Over the past several months, the Catholic Church also has been dealing with, among others, the fallout from the news of allegations of sexual misconduct by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal in Washington, D.C., during his tenure in posts in New York and New Jersey.
And on Aug. 25, several news organizations reported that the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, called for Pope Francis to resign because of years of high-level cover-up in the McCarrick case.
The pope—on his return trip to the Vatican from a meeting of families in Ireland in which he also spoke and apologized in a private meeting to victims of clergy abuse—declined to respond to the letter’s claims.
As that news was streaming across social media, newspapers and news networks on Aug. 26, Bishop Burns traveled to various parishes across the diocese to read a statement about the events at St. Cecilia Catholic Church and to call for further action and transparency on the part of Catholic clergy leaders.
“If we are ever going to restore trust or credibility in the church, it’s only going to come after we consistently do what is right,” Bishop Burns said at the end of the 6 p.m. Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Plano.
“My friends, let me say to you that if this church of ours has to go through a purification, so be it,” he said to applause. “And let us pray for the fire of the Holy Spirit, so as to purify us, in what we need to do, in being the church that we say we are. I’m not going to cover my ears or cover my eyes or cover my mouth and we are going to look at this head-on.”
In the Paredes case, Diocese of Dallas officials have said that the former pastor is accused of theft of approximately $80,000 and that a settlement of an undisclosed amount had been reached with the victims, who wished to remain anonymous.
Bishop Burns has said that in the future the diocese would:
• Hold a Ceremony of Sorrows at St. Cecilia Catholic Church
• Schedule four town hall meetings, beginning with a liturgy, across the diocese to allow Catholics to ask questions
• Expand Safe Environment protocols with wider participation from parishioners
• Survey parents, grandparents and parishioners as to the effectiveness of the Safe Environment Program within their parishes.
• Contract a researcher to look at Pennsylvania grand jury report about the inefficiencies of safeguards in the six dioceses there and to compare those inefficiencies to the Diocese of Dallas.
• Ask priests across the diocese to pray the rosary prior to each Mass in October, whenever possible, during the Month of the Rosary.
On Sept. 3, the bishop returned to St. Cecilia Catholic Church to address Mass-goers at 11 a.m., outlining the progress on his early initiatives and apologizing to the parishioners.
“You did not ask for this; this parish did not ask for this and you do not deserve this,” he said. “And if there is a need for purification in our church then so be it.
“I would like to once again assure you,” he said, “of my prayers and my continued presence, as we continue to heal and to do our utmost in creating a safe environment.”
Video of Bishop Edward J. Burns press conference announcing the letter to Pope Francis: