The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville on Thursday released a list of 13 priests and a deacon the church deemed “credibly accused” of sexually assaulting children, most recently in 2010.
The list, however, does not include four priests’ current location. The sole deacon on the list, Ronaldo Mitchell Chavez, 45, who most recently worked at San Cristobal Magallanes in Mission, remains incarcerated at a state prison in Huntsville for sexually abusing an altar boy in 2010. Chavez was also a state-certified teacher and principal.
In another case, Basil Onyia, 52, fled to Nigeria in 2001 amid a criminal investigation into accusations he sexually abused a teenage girl, according to Bishop Accountability, an organization tracking sexual abuse within the church. Onyia was accused of showing the girl a pornographic video and fondling her, while a priest at Basilica in San Juan in 1999. The church also assigned Onyia to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Harlingen.
The Catholic Church has been scrutinized in recent years for relocating abusive priests from their assigned churches to other locations, instead of cooperating with law enforcement and removing the accused from the clergy altogether.
“It will cause pain for the whole church, but in a particular way for victims who no matter how long ago something may have happened, may very well feel stirred again in the sense of the pain, and the loss, and the sorrow that they experienced. So, we have to keep them in mind,” Bishop Daniel Flores said in a video posted to the Brownsville diocese website.
Although Onyia and Chavez’s whereabouts are known, based on the church’s list, it’s unclear where the remaining four living priests reside, or if they were criminally prosecuted for sexually abusing children. The remaining eight died.
Many of the priests worked at parishes throughout at least 24 Rio Grande Valley cities. Their current whereabouts, however, remain largely unknown.
Humberto Acosta, 69, worked at five churches, including: St. Mary’s Church in Brownsville; St. Joseph Church in Edinburg; St. Anthony Church in Harlingen; Our Lady of Mercy Church in Mercedes; and St. Margaret Mary Church in Pharr. He has since left the diocese, but it’s unclear where he resides.
Lee DaCosta, 81, retired in 2012 from the ministry after the “team identified him as a priest who had a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.” He worked at Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg; Sacred Heart Church in Escobares; St. Theresa Mission Church in Faysville; St. Anthony Church in Harlingen; Holy Family Church in La Grulla; St. Joseph the Worker Church in McAllen; Sacred Heart Church in McAllen; St. Joseph the Worker Mission Church in San Carlos; St. Anne Mission Church in San Manuel; Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City; Our Lady Queen of the Universe Church in San Benito; St. Joan of Arc Church; and San Martin Porres Church and St. Pius X Church in Weslaco.
Armando Escobedo, 82, was assigned to Christ the King Church and St. Luke Church in Brownsville; St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church in Laredo; Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Lyford; Our Lady of Mercy Church in Mercedes; Our Lady of St. John of the Fields Church in Mission; and St. Anthony Church in Raymondville. He was removed from the ministry after abuse allegation arose.
Terrence Fowler, 57, was assigned to Queen of the Universe Church in San Benito; Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Harlingen; St. Joseph Church in Alamo; Christ the King Church in Brownsville; and St. Luke Church in Brownsville. The church is in the process of laicization, the final step in removing his association as a church leader.
Texas Catholic bishops made the decision to release names of clergy members “credibly accused” of sexually assaulting minors in October 2018, two months after a Pennsylvania grand jury uncovered rampant sexual abuse by priests who molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.
“Painful as it is to see names … it was necessary (to release names),” Flores said, adding that a group of Catholics trained to deal with sensitive information reviewed personnel files of all clergy members stored within the Catholic Diocese in Brownsville.
The group, known by the church as layperson, compiled information about clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse against children.
PRIESTS WHO’VE SINCE DIED
Six of the priests listed have died. They include George B. Dyer, 78, of St. Luke Church and Campus Ministry in Brownsville, and Frank Gomez, 85, of St. Joseph Church in Alamo; Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville; St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church in Laredo; and St. Francis Xavier Church in La Feria.
Gomez also worked at Sacred Heart Church in Mercedes; St. Theresa Church in San Benito; St. Mary Church in Santa Rosa; and San Martin de Porres Church in Weslaco.
Others who have died are James Jeffrey, 83, of Christ the King Church in Brownsville and St. Francis Xavier Church in La Feria; and Benedicto Ortiz, 80, of Good Shepherd Church in Brownsville; Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville; St. Anthony Church in Harlingen; Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen; St. Anne, Mother of Mary Church in Pharr.
Churches Ortiz also worked at include Knapp Memorial Methodist Hospital in Weslaco and HCA Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen. The diocese received information in 2016 that Ortiz had committed sexual abuse.
Salvador Rangel, 55, of St. Joseph Church in Donna has also died. Additional churches he’s worked at include Our Lady of Assumption Church in Harlingen; and Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen.
Salomon “David” Sandoval, 64, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville died as well, and he’s worked at St. Joseph Church in Edinburg; Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Mission; and San Martin de Porres Church in Weslaco.
The Brownsville diocese list includes names of accused clergy members dating back to 1965 — the year the region’s Catholic diocese was created.
The Support Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, called the release of names the first step in the process to provide justice for victims of sexual assault by clergy members.
“The only way to ensure that the bishops here in Texas are truly sincere about rebuilding their sacred trust is to allow for independent, properly-vetted and trained experts in law enforcement to review all files and allegations related to clergy sexual abuse,” a SNAP statement read.
SNAP, a non-profit organization, wants Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
Bishop Flores said the there is no active priest, deacon or bishop within the Brownsville diocese that has been credibly accused of sexually assaulting children.
“My message to the faithful is that this is a difficult moment, but it’s important that we face the past, that goes back to 1965, and address this reality, and then to be able to move forward with a sense of humanity, but also a sense of the need to have every protection possible in place to protect young people, minors not just in the church, but in all of society,” Flores said.