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Police Execute Search Warrant At Dallas Catholic Diocese Regarding Sex Abuse Allegations

Bishop Edward J. Burns during the diocese's afternoon press conference at Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Oak Lawn, across the street from the diocese, in response to Wednesday's police raid.
Stella Chávez
Bishop Edward J. Burns during the diocese's afternoon press conference at Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Oak Lawn, across the street from the diocese, in response to Wednesday's police raid.

The Dallas Police Department executed a warrant Wednesday at the Catholic Diocese of Dallas to search for documentation and data as part of an investigation into child sex abuse allegations.

BishopEdwardJ.Burns says the diocese has been cooperating during the investigation.

Dallas police received information last August regarding sexual abuse allegations against a former priest, Edmundo Paredes. When the police served an arrest warrant for Paredes, that produced additional allegations of child abuse involving other suspects, Maj. Max Geron told reporters Wednesday. 

As a result, investigators are seeking evidence.

The diocese says those suspects are former priests.

Police Detective David Clark in an affidavit supporting the search 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.

Burns says the diocese has been transparent.

"We recognize that throughout our collaboration with police, there are some who are not satisfied and want to look for themselves. We know we have given them the files and so we say, ‘By all means, look,'" Burns said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "And indeed, if today's event is what gives them the opportunity to look for themselves, then so be it."

Police executed searches at three locations: the Dallas Catholic Diocese headquarters, north of downtown; a storage facility in southwest Dallas; and Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in Oak Cliff, where Paredes was pastor for 27 years until mid-2017.

Paredes, 70, has been missing since sex abuse allegations against him were made public by the diocese in August.

The investigation

The Dallas police department's child exploitation department has spent several months conducting interviews and meeting with the diocese and its attorneys, Geron said at the police press conference.

Dallas Police Maj. Max Geron says new allegations of sexual abuse prompted this morning's raid of three Catholic Diocese buildings, which began around 7:30 a.m.
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Dallas Police Maj. Max Geron says new allegations of sexual abuse prompted this morning's raid of three Catholic Diocese buildings, which began around 7:30 a.m.

When asked if the diocese was cooperating, Geron said "there have been varying degrees of cooperation."

"We believe at this point that the execution of the warrants was wholly appropriate for the furtherance of the investigation," he said.

In the affidavit, Clark 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."

Clark also wrote that investigators in a meeting with diocesan attorneys in January requested the number of priests' files that were flagged for sexual abuse. But the attorneys wouldn't provide the number, arguing that it was "privileged" information.

Burns 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.

In a statement, the diocese said it hadn't received a subpoena and that its involvement in the investigation "has been voluntary."

"The diocese willcontinuetocooperateinallinvestigationsofsexualabuseofaminorbyclergy," the statement says. 

Dallas police are investigating each allegation individually, "independent of any other entity," to give each victim a voice within the legal system, Geron said.

Geron said the department thanks those who came forward and encourages others with information to contact the Child Exploitation squad at 214-671-4211. 

Geron would not comment on the number of victims related to the allegations. He also wouldn't comment on how far back the offenses go. 

According to the affidavit, investigators are looking for details on four men, in addition to Paredes:

All five were named in a report released in January by the Dallas diocese that identified 31 former clergy 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.

The list of names

Wednesday’s developments follow the release of lists earlier this year by Catholic dioceses across Texas – lists of priests and laity accused of sexual abuse since 1950. It was done with the goal of restoring trust to a Catholic Church that has been rocked for years, in Texas and around the world, by allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-ups.

"These have been very difficult days within the Church and the Diocese of Dallas," Burns said in a letter to the diocese at the time. "As we look back at the Church’s history, our failure to protect our most vulnerable from abuse, and hold accountable those who preyed on them, fills me with both sorrow and shame. ... I pledge to you that we will do our best to do what is right."

The bishop tasked a team of former law enforcement officers to review files of more than 2,400 clergy members who have served in the diocese. The 31 priests who were named by the Dallas diocese faced allegations of sexual abuse of a minor determined to be credible.

Regarding the investigation that led to Wednesday's raids, Burns said: "I really don’t know of any other organization or institution that has been as transparent as we have, when looking at 2,424 files since 1950."

Burns said when he came to the diocese two years ago, he wanted to make sure that "the priests who are assigned are suitable and fit."

"Now, collectively, with all the dioceses in the state of Texas, we have released our names," he said. "We then produced a list of 31 priests since 1950 – 70 years ago – who have allegations that are credible. We've produced them."

Seventeen of the 31 on the Dallas list have died, and several who are still living were suspended or defrocked. Five have been prosecuted. One priest – Rudy Kos – is incarcerated.

Just last week, Pope Francis issued new rules requiring priests and nuns to report incidents of abuse or cover-ups to church authorities. The new regulations are Francis' latest effort to combat sexual abuse involving the church. They take effect June 1.

SNAP response

SNAP -- or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- issued a statement Wednesday.

"We are glad that police and prosecutors are taking the issue of clergy abuse in Texas seriously and are not just relying on the promises of church officials," it said in part. "As we have seen in places like Buffalo, Pennsylvania and Illinois, catholic dioceses have not consistently been forthright in disclosing full lists of credibly accused priests, nor providing information about the church officials who covered up their crimes."

Paul Petersen is with the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of SNAP.  

"If there was full transparency from the diocese like they themselves suggest, there wouldn't be a box truck on the back end of the loading dock at the diocese,” he said.

Petersen, who is an abuse survivor, says days like Wednesday are painful.

"When stuff like this happens, it is exhausting,” he said. “It does re-traumatize; it does re-victimize."

Watch a replay of DPD's press conference:

Listen to Bishop Burns' press conference:

The Associated Press contributed to this report. KERA's Christy Robinson, Courtney Collins, Bill Zeeble, Stella M. Chávez and Eric Aasen contributed to this report.