Skip to comments.Priest demoted over policy - removal may be precedent
Posted on 04/06/2002 3:24:14 AM PST by MeekOneGOP
Priest demoted over policy
Criminal checks not conducted; removal may be precedent
In what appears to be a national precedent, the Catholic Diocese of Dallas has removed a priest from his church for failing to do criminal background checks required by the diocese's sexual abuse policy.
The Rev. Efren Ortega, 67, a beloved priest for 12 years at St. James Catholic Church in Oak Cliff, is being reassigned to another Dallas parish as a pastoral associate. He can still perform sacramental duties, the diocese said, but he cannot serve as an administrator.
"This should send a clear message to all clergy and employees of the Diocese of Dallas that we intend to fully implement our safe environment program," said diocesan spokesman Bronson Havard. He said that Father Ortega has not been accused of sexual misconduct.
FILE 1997/Staff Photo
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., said she knew of no other priest who had been removed from ministry for failing to follow a sex abuse policy.
"It's a whole new chapter in our church," she said.
The Catholic Church has been engulfed in a series of clergy sex scandals since January, when word broke that a Boston priest may have abused 130 children. Since then, dozens of priests across the country have been removed amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
In a written statement, Bishop Charles V. Grahmann praised Father Ortega's dedication to ministry but also emphasized the need to bring every parish into compliance with the sexual abuse policy.
"Through his hard work and dedication, he has brought the parish to new heights," he said. "Because of our serious commitment to ... the safe environment program ... I'm obliged to appoint an interim administrator to St. James parish."
Diocesan officials summoned Father Ortega to their offices on Friday after The Dallas Morning News reported this week that the priest wasn't complying with the policy. The policy requires criminal background checks on employees and volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults.
Father Ortega told The News that he didn't conduct checks on nuns who routinely work with children or on select volunteers. The diocese said the problems were more severe than reported.
"This is something we can't fool around with anymore," Mr. Havard said.
St. James is a poor parish with an average weekend attendance of more than 2,000 worshippers. The parish is served by nuns from Mother Teresa's religious order, the Missionaries of Charity.
"They work with the kids here, but we trust them completely. They are so holy," Father Ortega said last week. "When we screen people, we use common sense. I know who we can trust, and people trust me. When you are in the light of truth, people trust you."
Father Ortega could not be reached for comment Friday.
The diocese's 4-year-old policy was developed after the child-abuse cases involving former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos. In 1997, a judge ordered the diocese to pay nearly $120 million in damages, which was later negotiated to a $31 million settlement.
Bishop Grahmann recently announced that an independent company had been hired to find out whether the diocese's 66 parishes and 35 schools are complying with the policy.
"The bishop is determined to see that it is implemented, and we will carry out disciplinary action if anyone fails to carry out their responsibilities," Mr. Havard said.
Father Ortega came to Dallas from New York in 1985 and was officially made a priest in the diocese in 1991. He is originally from Colombia.
He is being reassigned as pastoral associate at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Dallas, effective April 13. The pastor there is the Rev. Eduardo Gonzalez. Monsignor Mario Magbanua, currently pastoral associate at St. Cecilia Church in Oak Cliff, is being assigned to St. James, the diocese said.
"While we lament the terms of this transition," the bishop said, "Father Ortega has agreed to and accepted the terms of the transfer, and we are both confident that this is in the best interest of the parish and of the church of Dallas."
The bishop had a policy for weeding out sex offenders. This pastor didn't follow it, and was removed from his office. Why should the bishop be canned?
Incredibly naive thinking.
What I find a little confusing is, why doesn't the Diocese do the background checks on all People in each Parish and thereby maintain central files.
The Diocese must rule on most clerics who are assigned and they must have authority over any Order working in the parish.
Up to a point. It's not naive to implicitly trust Mother Teresa's nuns with the care of children. The problem is the "select volunteers" whom he also trusted without background checks.
Very true. It was ever thus.