Local Catholic diocese to release names of clergy ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing children

Catholic dioceses in Texas plan to release the names of clergy members “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors, according to an announcement Wednesday by the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.

All 15 dioceses in Texas will publicly disclose names by the end of January.

While “credibly accused” has not been clearly defined by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, the list will include names of priests, deacons and bishops criminally charged with sexual crimes involving children, according to Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Brownsville diocese. It will also include names of some clergy members accused in civil cases.

Texas bishops made the decision to release names of clergy members accused from 1950 to present, an effort to “promote healing and restoration of trust in the Catholic Church,” according to a news release. The Brownsville diocese will compile its list of accused clergy members dating back to 1965, the year the region’s diocese was established.

“The care of victims and their healing is primary, and we must do what we can to strengthen those whose faith has been injured,” Flores said. “An accurate accounting of the past is necessary for us to move forward with integrity.”

There will be at least seven names on the Brownsville diocese list, which encompasses the entire Rio Grande Valley. In 2004, the diocese, under the direction of then-bishop Raymundo Peña, found seven clergy members had sexually abused children. Their names were not released.

Since then, at least one other case has come to light.

Ronaldo Mitchell Rangel Chavez, 45, a former deacon at San Cristobal Magallanes Catholic Church in Mission, was arrested and charged with sexually abusing an altar boy for a two-year period, according to court records. Chavez was sentenced in 2015 to seven years in prison for indecency with a child by sexual contact, a second-degree felony and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

Chavez had “unlimited access to altar boys” at the church. The teenage boy was “one of many innocent children victimized by the negligence” of the diocese and Chavez, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victim.

Basil Onyia, a priest, fled in 2001 from the Rio Grande Valley to his home country of Nigeria amid a criminal investigation into accusations he sexually abused a teenage girl, according to Bishop Accountability, an organization tracking sexually abuse within the church.

The 16-year-old girl confided in Onyia about sexual abuse by her father, The Monitor previously reported. Onyia, who was moved from the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady San Juan Del Valle to St. Joseph Catholic Church in McAllen to Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Harlingen, is accused of showing the girl a pornographic video and fondling her internally, while assigned to the Basilica in San Juan in 1999.

Onyia was also accused of sexually abusing two other girls at Immaculate in Harlingen in 2000.

In recent years, the Catholic Church has come under fire for covering up sexual abuse of minors nationwide, including in a recent case in Conroe, Texas — a city north of Houston. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, a priest, was arrested last month surrounding allegations that Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo ignored the sexual abuse allegations and instead moved LaRosa-Lopez to another church, according to the Associated Press. LaRosa-Lopez was arrested and charged with four counts of indecency with a child.

DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and others within the church met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in mid-September regarding abuse allegations within the Catholic Church, the Associated Press reported.

The decision to release the names by dioceses in Texas was made on Sept. 30.

“We are completely committed to eradicating the veil of sexual abuse in the church and promoting healing among the faithful and those injured by this crime,” DiNardo said in a statement, later adding: “I want to express my personal sorrow at such fundamental violations of trust that have happened.”

In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed rampant sexual abuse by Catholic priests who molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s, according to the Associated Press. Catholic leaders “not only did nothing, they hid it all,” the state’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

“I think also part of this, is in some way, to address the injury to the faith of others,” said Brownsville diocese Bishop Daniel E. Flores, when asked about the report’s influence on Catholics. “People have been horrified by what they’ve read in the Pennsylvania report.”

Flores issued a letter to local Catholics in August.

“The entire Catholic community feels great pain, shame and even faintness at hearing the news that has come from various parts of the country about the sexual abuse of minors and abuse of power in the Church,” the letter read, in part.

Members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the move to release names of clergy members accused of sexual abuse in Texas is a “good step,” but stopped short of calling it sufficient.

“The fact remains that bishops have had the power to make these lists public for years,” according to SNAP’s statement. “We hope that this pressure also compels law enforcement officials to follow in the footsteps of Pennsylvania and Michigan in launching an aggressive investigation.”

The church expects that “there may be people who come forward with new information” following the announcement made Wednesday, according to Gustavo Garcia-Siller, archbishop in San Antonio.

The Brownsville diocese requests anyone in the Valley, who may have been sexually abused by anyone within the Catholic Church, contact its victim assistance coordinator. Coordinator Walter Lukaszek may be reached by phone at (956) 784-5066 or by email at wlukaszek@cdob.org.

A SNAP volunteer, however, said contacting the church may cause “further victimization.”

“We actually recommend that they not go through the church,” said Patti Waller Koo, a former McAllen resident, who was abused by a Presbyterian pastor. “Often times, the church has been insensitive” in its handling of and approach to sexual abuse allegations.

Sexual abuse of children may be reported to local law enforcement, regardless of the year the crime took place. The state does not set a deadline for indictments or prosecution on continuous sexual abuse of a child, indecency with a child and sexual performance by a child charges.

“I love the Rio Grande Valley, and the people here are very good, and for that very reason, I think we have to be as transparent and accountable as possible,” Flores said. “The church has to keep its mission going. We have to deal with it.”

cgarcia@themonitor.com