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Top US cardinal let priest accused of sexual abuse lead Mass

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2018, file photo, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, listens to a reporter's question during a news conference during the USCCB's annual fall meeting in Baltimore. Prosecutors investigating a sexual abuse case against a Houston-area priest are executing a search warrant at the offices of the local archdiocese, led by DiNardo, the cardinal leading the Catholic Church’s response in the U.S. to sexual misconduct. Investigators from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office were at the offices Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — The cardinal who leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops allowed a priest to celebrate Mass the same day his name was among those released on a list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo told the Rev. John T. Keller on Wednesday evening that he would be placed on administrative leave the next day, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said in a statement Friday.

DiNardo allowed Keller to lead the 9 a.m. Thursday Mass at his parish, the statement said, because Keller “was already scheduled to celebrate” it.

Hours later, Keller was listed among 40 members of the clergy as having been removed from ministry due to “recent allegations currently under investigation.” Fourteen dioceses in Texas on Thursday named those credibly accused of abuse, identifying 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children.

Michael Norris, a member of the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, accused DiNardo on Friday of “waiting until the last minute to remove” Keller because he knew the case was getting media attention.

Letting Keller celebrate Mass on Thursday morning was “nonsense,” Norris said.

“The idea is when you remove someone from ministry, you remove someone from ministry,” Norris said. “You remove the accused immediately.”

As head of the Catholic bishops, DiNardo has shaped the U.S. Catholic Church’s response to the clergy abuse crisis and met with Pope Francis about the issue.

At the same time, DiNardo’s handling of cases in Houston has come under question. Another local priest, the Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, was charged in September with four counts of indecency with a child. Two people who said La Rosa-Lopez victimized them told The Associated Press that they felt DiNardo didn’t do enough to stop La Rosa-Lopez, who was also on the list released Thursday.

DiNardo and the archdiocese said they recently received new allegations against Keller.

But allegations that Keller let a 16-year-old boy drink alcohol and then fondled him have been public since at least 2003, when The Dallas Morning News reported that Keller was ordered to undergo counseling “to ensure he is not at risk for any future inappropriate behavior.”

According to the newspaper, Catholic officials in Houston said then that the conduct “did not fit for it to be identified as sexual abuse” and let Keller remain at his parish, Prince of Peace Catholic Community in northwest Houston.

CBS News broadcast an interview with the man in November and another interview Thursday with a second person who accused Keller of touching him inappropriately when he was 8.

The archdiocese declined to comment on Keller’s case beyond its statement, in which it said it had reported allegations against Keller to civil authorities and that it encouraged victims to cooperate with any investigation.

Keller was still listed as Prince of Peace’s pastor on the parish’s website Friday.

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Nomaan Merchant

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  • Cardinal Daniel DiNardo told the Rev. John T. Keller on Wednesday evening that he would be placed on administrative leave the next day.

    DiNardo’s lame excuse that Keller was allowed to say mass the next day because he was “already scheduled” stretches credulity. Schedules can change in a heartbeat and DiNardo knows this. It’s just very hard for me to accept that at this late stage of the game DiNardo does not understand the necessity for a person in his position to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” It’s simply not credible. Very sloppy for someone not known for being sloppy in every other aspect of his life.

  • “Michael Norris, a member of the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, accused DiNardo Friday of ‘waiting until the last minute to remove’ Keller because he knew the case was getting media attention.”

    Canon Law doesn’t work that way.

    There is something called due process.

    There is something called a presumption of innocence.

    If a decree of suspension is effective Wednesday, the subject of the decree is not suspended Monday.

    It is hard to imagine the priest was going to abuse someone while saying Mass.

  • Re: “Schedules can change in a heartbeat and DiNardo knows this.” 

    Of course he does. This didn’t happen because DiNardo was oblivious. I don’t think that at all. Rather, I suspect it was a kind of passive-aggressive reaction to his critics and perhaps Keller’s accusers. 

    I can’t help but view this as similar to how ex-Cardinal McCarrick was fired due to credible accusations he’d attack seminarians and at least one minor, but dispatched to an abbey which just happens to be a block away from a school

    Yeah, this is the Church — institutionally juvenile — flashing a metaphorical middle finger at everyone. How wonderful, no? 

  • Rather simply it was due process.

    No need to flash another metaphorical middle finger at the bishop or the Church as though you know anything at all about it.

  • Well, that was an unfortunate decision by DiNardo – to allow Keller to say Mass the morning of the day it would be announced he was under investigation for child sex abuse and when, at the same time, he is disclosing who else has been accused in the last, oh, 50 years. It seems odd to me that DiNardo could be so blind to the optics of that decision – that DiNardo did not consider it serious.

    I have a problem with this statement: “As head of the Catholic bishops, DiNardo has shaped the U.S. Catholic Church’s response to the clergy abuse crisis and met with Pope Francis about the issue.” DiNardo is head of the USCCB now but he has hardly been alone in shaping how the U.S. Catholic Church responds to clergy sex abuse. DiNardo is the 6th head of the USCCB since the scandal broke in 2002. More, while there can be some action by a Catholic Bishop Conference anywhere to attempt to express a vision of the entire conference, there is no power within a conference to oversee bishops living up to or implementing a conference vision or agreement.

    I have mixed feeling about what should be done to bring some oversight to how bishops handle identifying, reporting, investigating incidents of sex abuse. An obvious point at which some oversight could be located is at the conference level. But that would still mean the good ol’ boys overseeing the good ol’ boys – the blind leading the blind. They need lay men and women providing some of that oversight – faithful Catholics who love the Church and can bring reality into the bishops vision of lay life. I don’t think Pope Francis and the Vatican PTBs are there yet – but I don’t think a good job can be done until lay people are part of the process.

  • Thoughtful comments. More I think is needed. The church needs to examine how the scandal developed in the first place, why there are so many accused priests, what is it about Catholic doctrines/policies/practices that brought the Church to this point. IF that is they really want to get out of this mess!

  • Its a fair point that there is a process. Its not quite the same as due process, because the Church reserves higher standards for its priests. Scandal, whether true or perceived, is enough to remove a priest from ministry.

  • Interesting that ancilliary RCC organizations like Catholic Charities don’t have a cover-up problem, at least not one covering dozens and dozens of dioceses. At least in the US, CC have mostly lay volunteers, not all Catholic, and lay people in positions of authority.

  • It is enough to remove a priest from ministry WITH DUE PROCESS.

    Arbitrary and capricious suspensions and removals WITHOUT DUE PROCESS by bishops are overturned, as Cardinal Wuerl found out the hard way when he was bishop of Pittsburgh.

  • In Catholic theology and doctrine bishops are, by consecration, successors to the Apostles and shepherds of the sheep. The Catholic Church teaches (Vatican I and II, and before) that it is by its divine constitution hierarchical.

    A provision that lay men and women oversee bishops inverts that, is contrary to Catholic belief, and has been and never will be seriously entertained.

    As to “faithful
    Catholics who love the Church” – the heterodox National Catholic Reporter, which has conflicted with the Church for several years, claims to be run by and serve “faithful
    Catholics who love the Church”.

    That also looks like a non-starter.

  • Most of the accused priests are dead.

    Few new allegations are being made.

    The dioceses which had no problems, or almost no problems, like Lincoln, Nebraska, were those that followed Catholic doctrines, policies, and practices to the letter.

    The worst problems arose in dioceses where the bishop himself was an offender of some sort, usually homosexual, such as Rembert Weakland in Milwaukee who left when a $450k payofff to an ex-boyfriend was discovered.

    He left Milwaukee a shambles, particularly by lowering standards in the seminaries and allowing individuals who should have been ordained into the clergy.

    The second worst problems occurred in dioceses such as Boston where the bishop misinterpreted forgiveness in such a way as to still the operation of Canon Law, which required the dismissal of offenders, and to turn over the problem of offenders to a variety of mind mavens who promised cures and treatments to return them to active duty.

    Of course that turned out to be complete hogwash and the results a disaster.

    I am bit perplexed about your concern about the Church getting out of this mess when you’ve often stated your opposition to it, your hope it disappears, and your belief it will.

  • Most parishes have mostly lay employees and volunteers, not all Catholic, and lay people in positions of authority.

  • It seems very unlikely that the Church leadership will be able, psychologically or institutionally, to give lay people more than a cosmetic presence. In hindsight, the forced resignation of Keating tells us that. Even now, were it not for the AG reports and the threat of more AG reports, it is very unlikely the bishops would be providing the transparency and accountability, token though it may be, that they are.

  • Finally, after the non-starter of dead priests, we have a” result” of the sweep the DA made through the Texas office. But this isn’t the same person they said they were trying to get information on, is it? I think it is pretty obvious that they are getting down to the wire, here. They hope to get the Cardinal to step down before the Feb. meeting, like Cardinal Wuerl did. Didn’t the current charter for the protection of young people come out of there?

  • Similar to Susan’s comment, the Pope wrote at Christmas of his concern that not only had the abuse (scandals) globally undercut and diminished the church’s credibility but even more so by efforts to deny or conceal them. As well he wrote of the urgent need for a new mindset and approach within the church. Pennsylvania’s AG asserted that he did not believe that the church was able to police itself and required outside forces such as law enforcement to ensure accountability. So perhaps the Church is not there yet in terms of applying practices. When the Church has the ability to provide a critical leadership role globally, all dioceses have to be in compliance to not diminish that voice. As a non-Catholic, it is important to me that the Pope’s voice is also heard on broader issues. And other denominations certainly do not gain when the Catholic Church is tarnished.

    And you may have overlooked the fact that there are also schools operated under the auspices of the Catholic church. Australia’s Royal Commission into the Sexual Abuse of Children notes that abuse was not just in churches but related schools and other institutions/agencies as well. Institutional recommendations were made that were child protection centered. I am not sure whether or not the US Catholic church has any sense of whether or not this may also be an overlooked issue in the States.

  • While “… the Pope wrote at Christmas of his concern that not only had the abuse (scandals) globally undercut and diminished the church’s credibility but even more so by efforts to deny or conceal them.”, he himself has done little or nothing to correct anything, and has in fact blocked efforts to – for example – purge the seminaries and clergy of homosexuals. Over 80% of the abuse was male-on-male.

    The so-called Royal Commission into the Sexual Abuse of Children treated hearsay and direct testimony from people with known mental problems as evidence, lacked even the most basic due process – for example there was no opportunity to cross-examine by the accused, and specifically sought out testimony from special interests in the United States with track records of attacking the Catholic Church as “experts”.

    Among the “institutional recommendations” recommended were changes in Catholic doctrine and belief.

    This sideshow would never haven gotten out of the gate in the United States.

    A better approach for the Church is to look at the places where abuse did NOT occur, and they outnumber the places where it did.

  • Yes.

    The Charter has actually been extremely effective.

    Two proposals, however, put forth by Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, were not adopted:

    – that a study be made of the role of homosexuality in the abuse;

    – that a procedure be put in place for the bishops to hear, investigate, and forward to the Holy Father complaints about bishops.

    The party who led the defeat of those proposals was none other than Theodore Cardinal McCarrick.

  • Let’s just say that scheduling a priest to say mass on the day before he is defrocked is not a good look.

  • Mark, with all due respect to your zeal to protect your church, there is something amiss when “DUE PROCESS” works to shield the guilty while it throws the victims of sexual abuse under the bus.

  • In the great scheme of things, DiNardo’s decision doesn’t matter that much. But it is one more sign of tone-deafness from a hierarchy that can ill afford it these days. The cardinal is a smart man and he should have known better.

  • Be careful of using the word “authority” when talking about lay people in parishes, dioceses. Lay people have zero, zilch, no, none, authority when it comes to priests and bishops, what they do, how they behave or misbehave, and what is done about misbehavior by the consecrated, about decisions on who leads, who is promoted, on interpreting, understanding, recognizing who is speaking with the power of the Holy Spirit. The “divine constitution” you think exists does not have room for the hobbledehoy laity in a position of authority over the divinely consecrated. At one time, the hierarchy at least had to play with the kings and those recognized as royalty “by divine right.” Democracy just screws all that up, and the Catholic hierarchy is left with having to deal with the commoner when it comes to dealing in the world.

  • Fully agree, always, that the current effort to produce lists of credibly accused priests who may have abused – is straight out of reaction to the revelations from Pennsylvania and the fact that some other states’ AGs are looking. I don’t think DiNardo would have done anything if he weren’t pushed, even coerced. If he would have done it without this new mess, he would have done it by now.

    I just don’t want anyone to think that anyone is “in charge”. That implies someone is actually doing something that could make a difference. And no one is – at least not yet.

  • I AM surprised. While you may not like Catholicism, you actually correctly stated the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church.

    As to “(t)he ‘divine constitution’ you think exists”, I simply related that the Catholic Church not only thinks it exists, it teaches that it exists.

    I am sure when that happened during Vatican II in clear and unequivocal terms, you started looking for an organization to join along the lines of Call to Action, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, FutureChurch, or something along those lines and never looked back.

    The teaching remains even if you do not.

  • I only relate the Catholic belief.

    Since you know it’s the Catholic belief, you’re simply being annoying.

  • It’s not cannibalism, that’s for sure.

    Aren’t you the guy that was claiming to be “Catholic” recently?

  • I offered no claims about my personal religious beliefs, and I am sure that most average Catholics regard the communion theology as symbolic rather than real.

  • Decisions on moving priest-abusers around are not made in parishes, so your comment is not relevant.

  • Nope. The real presence of Christ present in the Eucharist.

    Transubstantiation is, according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the change of substance or essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

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