Missing and incomplete sex abuse files spark Dallas police raid of Catholic diocese, storage facility

Dallas police officers on Wednesday morning raided several Dallas Catholic Diocese offices after a detective said church officials have "thwarted" his investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Detective David Clark wrote in a search warrant affidavit that the Diocese either hid allegations against priests, turned over incomplete records and made it next to impossible for Dallas police to determine whether claims had been made or fully examined. Clark also takes the diocese to task for its recent transparency efforts, characterizing them as little more than a public relations effort.

The Dallas diocese released a statement after the raid that said officials had "been cooperating with the ongoing investigation of these priests."

But since the police investigation into one of the diocese's priests began last fall, at least five new allegations of sexual abuse have surfaced within the Dallas Catholic Diocese, said Maj. Max Geron, who oversees the special investigations division.

Police investigators, assisted by federal authorities, took files from the diocese's headquarters, a storage site and St. Cecilia, a Catholic church in Oak Cliff, where the priest who sparked the investigation previously served. Geron, at a news conference Wednesday, called the raids "wholly appropriate" for the investigation.

Wednesday's raid is one of many such actions by local law enforcement against the Catholic Church across the country in recent months. Authorities in at least a dozen states, including New York, New Jersey and Florida have announced investigations into allegations of sex abuse by priests and cover-ups by church officials. And in November, prosecutors armed with a subpoena searched the offices of the Houston-Galveston diocese, which is headed by Cardinal Daniel Dinardo, who also serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Dallas diocese, like other dioceses and religious orders, had promoted transparency measures in recent months as the Catholic Church locally and worldwide continues to deal with its sex abuse crisis and allegations of cover-ups. As part of a transparency effort, all Catholic dioceses in Texas – including Dallas – on Jan. 31 published lists of clergy members "credibly accused" of sexual abuse of minors since 1950.

Dallas diocese officials said they had hired a team of former law enforcement investigators to comb through its files to compile the list of 31 names. Seventeen of those on the list were already dead. And most of the allegations had already been reported.

At the center of the affidavit is the August revelation that Edmundo Paredes, the longtime pastor at St. Cecilia, was credibly accused of molesting three teenage boys in the parish over a decade ago. Diocese officials said Paredes also allegedly stole from the church.

The affidavit says the police investigation began Feb. 28, 2018, when Mary Edlund, chancellor of the Diocese, contacted the Dallas Police Department's Child Exploitation Unit about allegations made against Paredes.

Clark, the detective, wrote that the only reason Edlund contacted police was because the Diocese knew the allegations would be made public and spark media attention. The affidavit alleges Edlund told Clark "it would look better to say they contacted the police."

Police said the allegations against Paredes date back decades, and were known by church officials since at least 2006.

According to the affidavit, Edlund told Clark that Paredes' file, which had been turned over to law enforcement, should contain information about 2006 meetings regarding the priest.

"That file did not contain any information regarding the 2006 meeting between parishioners and Chancellor Edlund," Clark wrote in the affidavit.

Clark wrote that he reached out to the Diocese's attorney Bill Sims, who told the detective the Diocese and victims who had come forward were in the "monetary settlement process." The attorney also told the detective "he believed the victims did not want to pursue criminal allegations," according to the affidavit.

The settlement details remain confidential.

Bishop Edward Burns told St. Cecilia parishioners that officials believed Paredes has fled to his native country of the Philippines.

The allegations against Paredes were made public in August. Dallas police officials told Burns and the Diocesan attorneys that more allegations surface as a result.

In January, Dallas police – which assigned Clark to investigate sex abuse allegations against Dallas clergy members – issued an arrest warrant for the former Oak Cliff priest after a new accuser emerged.

Shortly after, the diocese released its list of "credibly accused" priests.

Burns said the list was part of an effort to be "accountable."

"The church of today has implemented reforms to safeguard those in our care," Burns said. "Going forward, we must remain vigilant. We cannot grow lukewarm."

But police were skeptical of the diocese's efforts.

Edlund told the cops that the diocese's investigators came from the Kathleen McChesney Group – led by McChesney, a former FBI agent. The affidavit says "it is noteworthy (that) these investigators were initially hired to investigate financial improprieties involving the Diocese's priests, not sexual abuse allegations."

But Clark says he was given only one name, and that he was "not aware of any experience involving this individual possesses related to child abuse investigations." The affidavit also says "the identities of other investigators were never revealed to Dallas Police nor was their experience in child abuse investigations, if any."

Dallas police allege the McChesney Group only reviewed the sexual abuse allegations "out of convenience, given they were already hired and in place."

The Diocesan Review Board and Burns were the final arbiters of what constituted a credible sex abuse allegation, the affidavit says.

Police also asked for the names of the priests whose names surfaced during the Diocese's investigation and were rebuffed and told the information was "privileged," according to the affidavit.

The affidavit says police believe more priests' files contain information "indicative of criminal behavior," but that the process has been so tainted it's unclear what they say – and why they are being kept from investigators.

Those files also did not name victims or provide evidence that priests had been punished.

At one point Clark writes that in October 2018 that Barbara Landregan, diocesan director of the Safe Environment Program, reached out to him about allegations involving Richard Thomas Brown at Holy Family Catholic Church in Irving. Those allegations dated back to the 1980s.

But when Clark looked through Brown's 541-page personnel file, he writes, "accusations were missing."

It took three weeks for church officials to turn over 51 additional pages from the file. But, again, most of the documentation from a 2004 allegation was absent.

Clark did find in the file Brown's own admission that he had touched two juveniles – once when he was in Washington, D.C., and in Irving in 1987. But the allegations involved far more than that, the police detective discovered.

Clark said the file identified the D.C. victim, but not the girl from Irving. He says he asked the Diocese's attorneys for help identifying her.

"The attorneys assured me all relevant information was in the file," Clark writes, "and there was nothing else anywhere in the Diocese that would help identify the victim."

Clark writes that on Feb. 19, 2019, he asked Diocesan lawyer Robert Rogers for files concerning Brown's transfers. Rogers, the detective writes, "stated my request was 'overly broad,' 'unnecessary,' and 'inappropriate.'"

Eventually, Clark writes, he found Brown in Pecos, N.M., where the priest allegedly identified victims not contained in his personnel file.

"It should be noted," Clark writes, "Brown has not been investigated or prosecuted for any of his acts of sexual abuse against children."

Clark also wrote that when he contacted other law-enforcement agencies across the country that were conducting similar investigations based on search warrants, they all said the same thing: Dioceses willfully refused to turn over information or, in some cases, stashed it in vaults that were only accessed once locks were picked.

According to the affidavit, police on Wednesday raided the Safesite document storage facility because that's where the Diocese keeps its "old sexual abuse complaints."

The manager there told Dallas police that the storage unit contained about 700 boxes from the Dallas Catholic Diocese, and that "some of the boxes contained claimant files for priest who were accused of sexual abuse in the past."

The police raid heartened advocates, who believed the church still hasn't come completely clean. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, released a statement saying they "applaud Texas law enforcement officials" for the raid 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," SNAPS's statement said.

The statement said the group hopes "this raid today sheds more light on the clergy abuse scandal as it relates to the Diocese of Dallas and will uncover the full truth of who knew what, when they knew it, and what steps church officials took in response to allegations of sexual abuse."