Dallas police search Catholic diocese for records related to new sex abuse allegations

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Police believe the Catholic Diocese of Dallas has thwarted some of their efforts to investigate child sex abuse. But Dallas Bishop Edward Burns insists his organization has nothing to hide.

Dallas police executed search warrants at a church and several offices within Dallas diocese Wednesday morning.

Multiple police vehicles, including a box truck, could be seen parked outside the diocese headquarters on Oak Lawn Avenue and Blackburn Street. Both entrances to the building were blocked off by officers.

Video from SKY 4 also showed a police presence at a building housing diocese records on West Ledbetter Drive and at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, the parish where former longtime pastor Edmundo Paredez was accused of stealing funds and sexually assaulting three teenage boys more than a decade ago.

Police began investigating after getting information from the diocese about sexual abuse allegations involving Paredes. It led to an arrest warrant being issued for Paredes, who police believe has fled the country.

The Dallas Police Department is now investigating at least five additional allegations of child abuse against priests including Paredes, Jeremy Myers, William Hughes, Richard Thomas Brown and Alejandro Buitrago. Investigators learned about these allegations after the case against Paredes became public.

All of the priests named in police documents have already been listed by the diocese as “credibly accused,” but police said the diocese was not forthcoming with information. In several cases, police said the church failed to properly report abuse allegations.

Following months of investigating, which included interviews with possible victims and witnesses, along with meetings with diocese officials and lawyers, multiple search warrants were served Wednesday. No arrests were made.

The warrants were for the "furtherance of the investigation" by police and used to collect "data or documentation of previous reports or records of abuse" that may be held by the Dallas Catholic Diocese.

"The Dallas Police Department is working to complete a thorough investigation into each allegation, independent of any other entity, to ensure that each victim has a voice within the legal system," said Major Max Geron, with Dallas PD's Special Investigation Unit.

Police said investigators hit numerous roadblocks obtaining information from the diocese and found files related to abuse allegations to be incomplete and inaccurate.

“To date, the Dallas Police Department hasn’t been given the number of priests’ files flagged for sexual abuse,” the search warrant affidavit states.

Dallas Bishop Edward Burns promised cooperation and denied allegations of withholding information about priest sex abuse claims.

“I really don't know if any organization or institution has been as transparent as we've been,” he said.

Burns responded with confidence to the raids and scathing details spelled out in the search warrant affidavit.

“We know we have given them the files. And so we say, by all means, look,” Burns added.

Last February, the diocese hired a team of former law enforcement to pour over the priests’ files. Police said the diocese would only disclose the name of one investigator.

"The identities of other investigators were never revealed to Dallas police nor was their experience in child abuse investigations,” the police document states.

Police said the diocese investigators were originally hired to look into financial improprieties, not take on abuse cases.

“What we do is assure you who they are,” Burns said. “We do want to respect their privacy.”

According to the search warrant affidavit, “Bishop Burns had the final say” on who made the “credibly accused” list that was released by the diocese at the end of January.

But police said others thought more priests should have been added, citing two separate occasions when people within the diocese’ inner circle approached Dallas police about investigating other priests left off the list. That signaled to investigators that even those associated with the diocese had lost confidence in the vetting process.

“And as I've said to the faithful of the Diocese of Dallas, I recognize the seriousness of all this. And as the bishop, I'm going to lean into it,” Burns said.

Burns and the diocese suggested the affidavit was riddled with errors. They said their review board involved in coming up with the list of credibly accused priests has police chiefs and a clinical psychologist. But again they didn't disclose names.

Tahira Merritt was part of the legal team that successfully sued the Catholic Diocese of Dallas back in 1997 for covering up the actions of a pedophile priest. She said 22 years later, the process of trying to investigate these types of cases is just as difficult.

“What I see for law enforcement is what I've seen many, many times in my cases,” she said. “They don't want to give up those documents.”

In 1997, the jury found that the Catholic Diocese of Dallas covered up actions by pedophile priest Rudy Kos. He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison for molesting 11 altar boys.

Merritt isn't surprised the Dallas Police Department ended up resorting to obtaining search warrants in order to try and get the answers they're looking for.

“It's the same obstructionist tactics,” she said. “They don't want to give the documents most of them kept in secret files and archives.”

Paul, who asked that FOX 5 not use his last name or show his face, was abused by a Dallas priest starting at age 12.

“I think this is a great day for victims and survivors alike,” he said.

Paul said his abuser, the Rev. Richard Johnson, ultimately confessed — but not before several other victims came forward. Paul said the Dallas diocese had been aware of a previous outcry but did nothing.

“This is a perfect example of what I believe we will learn more about,” he said. “There was already a credible allegation against a priest that abused me in the files at the diocese. It was not acted upon. I then came forward and disclosed and 3 more came behind me.”

Merritt has active cases against other Catholic dioceses in Texas.  She hopes this very public development in Dallas will lead to greater accountability in the future.

“We'll see what happens,” she said.

“I applaud the child exploitation unit of the Dallas Police Department,” Paul said. “They have really taken this to another level.”

Paul said he’s forgiven his abuser but cannot forgive the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, who he blames for allowing the cycle of abuse to continue. Like the five priests named in Wednesday's search warrant, Paul's abuser is named in the Dallas diocese list of priests "credibly accused" of sex abuse.

As Dallas police served the search warrant at the diocese headquarters, parishioners attending mass across the street were shocked but not entirely surprised the investigation into sexual assault allegations involving priests had come to this point.

“This is not a new issue. It's been going on for a long time,” said one churchgoer, who didn’t want to be identified.

“These people are human and they've been making mistakes forever,” another churchgoer said. “This is nothing new. I think it's being investigated now because it's so widespread.”

“We're all accountable to the same laws that govern our country, regardless of what position somebody's in. Everybody has to be accountable to the law,” Ryan Ford said.

Officials for SNAP - the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests – said they believe the list of credibly accused priests released by the diocese in January is incomplete.

“We all want to see the truth revealed and all the truth revealed,” SNAP spokeswoman Lisa Kendzior said.

SNAP is hoping any new information police find through the search warrant will be revealed so parents and parishioners are fully informed.

“This will actually show us, in Dallas, if the diocese was forthcoming with information they had about victims,” Kendzior added.

Some parishioners said even though this may shake their faith in church leadership, it has not shaken their faith.

“I go to church because I believe in God and what God does for me in my life. I feel everybody is human and mistakes have been made. They will be made. They will continue to be made. It needs to be corrected from the higher above,” one churchgoer said.

“That information is going to see the light of day. I don't know what it holds. But if there is stuff they've been hiding or suppressing, it's time that comes out for all to see,” Kendzior said.

Mass services at various churches in the diocese appear to be going on as scheduled. It's unclear if it will be addressed during Sunday services.

Anyone with additional information about the cases or any other cases of child sexual abuse is asked to call the DPD Child Exploitation Squad at 214-671-4211.