EDINBURG, RGV – Jerry Brazier is chapter leader of Call to Action-Rio Grande Valley, a group of progressive Catholics concerned with social justice issues and the renewal/reform of the Church.
Brazier said renewal and reform of the Catholic Church began with “so much promise” over 50 years ago with the Vatican Council.
“As a local chapter, we have been active for over 20 years in requesting (and demanding) that the Diocese of Brownsville be transparent about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy who have served the diocese–not only revealing the names and numbers of offenders and the numbers of victims but also recounting the institution’s handling of these cases,” Brazier told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“However, we have been consistently rebuffed by diocesan officials in these requests/demands.”
Brazier sent a letter on Feb. 7 to Bishop of Brownsville Daniel E. Flores about the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. He said he has yet to receive a reply. As Brazier has not received a reply, a Call to Action-Rio Grande Valley member reached out to the Rio Grande Guardian to ask if it could publish the letter. With Brazier’s permission, here it is:
February 7, 2019
I was certainly pleased to see that a set of names of clerics who have served in the Diocese of Brownsville and have credible accusations of having sexually abused minors while serving in ministry has been released to the public.
I cannot help but wonder what moral imperative arose in the last six months that was not present in the over twenty years the diocese refused again and again to even consider such a step. Repeatedly, requests to provide these names to the public were dismissed by saying, “It is not our policy to do so.”
Now that that intransigence has finally been abandoned, I would like make some comments and ask some questions about this current report, both its content and the process used in its development.
In his Jan. 1 letter to the American bishops, Pope Francis speaks of a “crisis of credibility” in the Church and more at length says,
I do believe you understand that this crisis of credibility does not primarily arise from the horror of the criminal abuse itself but from the knowledge of how badly the institutional Church dealt with this abuse of minors in diocese after diocese in this country. In the minds of the faithful, every diocese and every bishop is literally considered “guilty until proven innocent.” This is certainly grossly unfair but it is the reality of our times and every effort has to be made to be brutally honest and transparent about the past actions (or inactions) of the diocese in dealing with victims and the offending clerics. The current report does not do this and therefore does not address the crisis of credibility that Pope Francis is speaking about.
I have two particular concerns about the report.
First, the information provided to the public about how the report was prepared raises serious questions about the independence of the investigation and the professional expertise of the investigators. In many similar diocesan investigations that have been carried out around the country the bishops have stated that they have hired experienced, professional investigators from outside their diocese and indicated that they will have access to any files, not limited to the official personnel files of clergy, that they may feel are relevant to discovering the truth. No professional forensic team would ever need to have the name of their firm kept secret from the public. Yet, those carrying out the investigation in Brownsville are unnamed.
There may be some justifiable reason for that choice being made in this case, but, on its face, that choice undermines the credibility of the report. We have only the statement from the diocese that the investigators were independent and were given access to all relevant information. But that information was provided, a priori, by the diocese and we have no assurance that requests for additional information were even made, much less allowed. An earlier communication from a member of the diocesan staff indicated that the investigators were volunteers, which means, by definition, they were not a professional forensic team. I am not questioning the honesty and the effort of the volunteer investigators—they have worked hard. However, the public does not have enough information about the team and its expertise to be sufficiently convinced that the investigation was truly independent and was conducted according to the professional standards of forensic science.
Second, and much more concerning to me, is that the report is not complete. I have no first-hand information of any missing names; that is not what I am talking about. Simply having the names released is very important and may give some victims the courage and strength to come forward, now knowing that they are not alone. This release also tells the public that there are credibly accused sex offenders possibly living in their community. But simply releasing the names is not sufficient for the Church to be able to fully recover from this scandal.
Returning to Pope Francis’ comments and to what I mentioned earlier: it is the institutional Church’s actions and inactions in dealing with individual incidents of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy that has created the “credibility crisis.” About such things, the report that the diocese has prepared and released to the public stands totally silent.
With the understanding that no victim’s name would be released to the public, I am of the opinion that a complete report should have included the following:
- A total number of victims for each accused cleric along with a total number of incidents associated with each victim.
- The dates when each victim was abused (or at least a date range over which the abuse occurred) and to what ministry was the cleric assigned at the time.
- The date(s) when church officials received a report of abuse, either from the victim, the victim’s family, or another party.
- For each abuse report, an account of the interaction between the diocese, the victim, and the victim’s family. What support services were provided, what sort of financial settlement was offered or paid, etc.? Also, what sort of interaction between the diocese and law enforcement occurred.
- For each abuse report, what actions were taken vis-à-vis the accused cleric. These not limited to, but including, reassignment, remedial measures (counseling, etc.), removal from ministry (permanently or not), etc.
This may appear an onerous and unnecessary set of expectations for a lay person in this diocese to have. But, Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo—all the baptized folk are the Church, not only the Pope, not only the bishops, and not only the clerics. If it takes another twenty years of importuning to have a complete accounting, then yet another generation will have melted away, angry and disillusioned about the loss of what might have been.
Gerald D. Brazier
Editor’s Note: If Bishop Flores responds to Brazier and makes public the letter, the Rio Grande Guardian will bring it to its readers.