DALLAS (AP) – Investigators who were “thwarted” during earlier investigations of child sexual abuse by priests on Wednesday searched the offices of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas to obtain evidence of sexual misconduct, according to a police commander and police records.
Investigators searched the diocesan headquarters, a storage unit it uses and the offices of a church, police Maj. Max Geron told reporters.
“We believe at this point that the execution of the search warrants was wholly appropriate for the furtherance of the investigation at this point,” Geron said.
The events began last August with the investigation of Edmundo Paredes , a former priest who is believed to have fled Texas following claims that he abused three teenagers. That investigation resulted in allegations of abuse by others, Geron said.
Copies of the warrants refer to the 70-year-old Paredes and four others. All five were named in a report released in January by the diocese that identified former priests credibly accused of sexually assaulting a child.
Paredes is suspended from the diocese; the other four are suspended, on leave, retired or removed from the ministry.
Police Detective David Clark in an affidavit supporting the warrants described a diocese that wasn’t forthcoming with critical files and relied on personnel to identify predatory behavior when they had no background or training to do so.
Investigators in a meeting with diocesan attorneys in January requested the number of priests’ files that were flagged for sexual abuse, Clark wrote in the affidavit. But the attorneys wouldn’t provide the number, arguing that it was “privileged” information.
Clark later wrote that he was given incomplete and inaccurate files, despite “assurances” to the contrary from priests and church lawyers. The detective said his efforts to obtain records that likely contained information on the alleged sexual abuse of children “were thwarted.”
Bishop Edward Burns brushed aside the claim Wednesday that his diocese stymied efforts to obtain files on clerical abuse, saying church officials are being as transparent as possible.
“I stand confident that as the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas that we are doing this right,” Burns said during a press conference. “We’re doing everything possible to create a safe environment.”
Burns also said a retired FBI agent who the diocese brought in to review its files told him the affidavit and search warrants were rife with errors. He did not name the former agent.
The group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, released a statement commending police with raiding the “secret archives” of the diocese.
“Institutions cannot police themselves and it is only through strong action from law enforcement that the full truth of their scandals can be revealed,” the statement said. “We applaud the move and hope that it will inspire others who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes or cover ups in Texas to make a report to law enforcement officials immediately.”
The Dallas diocese was ground zero for the nation’s clergy sex-abuse crisis more than two decades ago.
About a dozen victims of the Rev. Rudolph “Rudy” Kos pressed the diocese into one of the country’s first civil jury trials. The Catholic Church had more often settled cases out of court, avoiding the kind of high-profile, 11-week trial that ended in 1997 when Dallas jurors found the diocese had committed “gross negligence” and hid information in its handling of Kos complaints.
The jury awarded Kos’ victims a staggering $119.6 million in actual and punitive damages – at the time the largest clergy-abuse verdict ever. The sides later settled, cutting the amount to about $30 million. Kos was criminally convicted in 1998, sentenced to life in prison and later dismissed from the priesthood.
Wednesday’s search follows another conducted by authorities in November at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston , where investigators were searching for information on a priest who has been accused by two people of fondling them two decades ago when they were teenagers. It’s highly unusual for dioceses to be raided by law enforcement.
Church officials in Texas have said they’re committed to transparency and 14 dioceses in Texas, including Dallas, in January each released reports that identified nearly 300 former priests who’ve been accused.