Lay Group Says Grahmann Should Go

By Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin
The Dallas Morning News
June 20, 2003

About three dozen prominent local Catholics have asked Pope John Paul II's U.S. ambassador to remove Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann, signaling the latest and most serious fracture between the diocese's leader and his laity.

"The current sexual abuse and leadership crisis in the Diocese of Dallas has become a scandal and an embarrassment to the Church," the group wrote in a recent letter to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. "The local diocesan leadership is isolated and in denial about the gravity of the situation, and our concern grows daily."

The group said it would launch a petition drive and Web site unless the ambassador asked them not to by mid-June. The deadline passed without word from Archbishop Montalvo, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The archbishop is in St. Louis this week for a national meeting of bishops, who remain under fire for their handling of the church's sex-abuse crisis.

Bishop Grahmann's spokesman, Bronson Havard, brought the lay protest to light Thursday with an article in the diocesan newspaper, which he edits.

"People have a right to voice their opinion, but they have to rise above self-interest and be accurate in their assessments," he said in the article. "They cannot point to any continuing abuse crisis in the diocese."

It said that most people who signed the letter "are not known as major contributors to Catholic charities or the church." But two, the article acknowledged, are trustees of the University of Dallas, a Catholic school in Irving, and two are trustees of the Catholic Foundation, which funds diocesan projects.

The trustees include University of Dallas board member Ray Wooldridge, who just finished a term as chairman; fellow university trustee Neil O'Brien; and former Catholic Foundation chairman Joe Pete Wilbert.

Mr. Havard did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, and the Texas Catholic article did not identify any signers other than the group's spokesman.

The spokesman for the lay group is Dallas corporate lawyer William McCormack, a partner at Hughes & Luce who has served on the boards and finance committees of three Catholic schools.

Deciding on going public

He said that the group had tried patiently and unsuccessfully to resolve its concerns through the church's internal procedures. Some area priests, he said, have expressed support for the effort "but are awaiting a clear statement from the laity" before deciding whether to go public.

Harry "Buzz" Crutcher, a leader of the lay group, said members had not planned to act immediately upon the passing of their deadline so that Bishop Grahmann and the ambassador could confer in St. Louis. He said they plan to launch their campaign next week.

"We have secured funds in an effort to ensure that every Catholic in Dallas is made aware of this petition drive," their letter to the ambassador states.

Mr. Crutcher said he was disappointed that Texas Catholic "chose to minimize" the signers of the letter. "We're not just a few disgruntled malcontents."

Several prominent businessmen and civic activists are among the lay group - including Albert "Al" Casey, the former CEO of AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines; William E. Cooper, the former chairman of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport board; and Anita N. Martinez, the first Hispanic City Council member in Dallas and founder of a prominent dance group.

Two other group members, Mr. O'Brien and former Jesuit Prep trustee Jerry Lastelick, were recognized in 1995 for their help in raising $7 million for Dallas parochial schools. Bishop Grahmann praised them at the time for "an exemplary commitment to their faith and the community as a whole."

In the Texas Catholic article, Mr. Havard said Bishop Grahmann "always welcomes the advice of lay people, even their criticism." It also said, however, that church law "prohibits anyone from holding a position in Catholic associations who has 'abandoned ecclesiastical community,' which can include those who publicly oppose their bishop."

Mr. McCormack said that members of the group have consulted with a church-law expert and believe they are on solid footing in seeking Bishop Grahmann's ouster. The Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, he said, "requires laymen to accept more responsibility for governing the church."

Mr. McCormack was among a smaller group of laymen that sought Bishop Grahmann's resignation in 1997, after a jury found the diocese liable for covering up abuse by the Rev. Rudy Kos and assessed the largest clergy-abuse penalty in history.

The bishop secretly agreed to quit then but later reneged, Mr. McCormack and D magazine publisher Wick Allison told The Dallas Morning News early this year. The pledge had come after lengthy negotiations with Mr. Havard and a threat to do what the McCormack group has now done: deliver a condemnation of the bishop to the Vatican ambassador.

Mr. Havard initially did not dispute the account. But after The News ran a story about the matter, he published a denial in Texas Catholic, along with a letter from local Protestant leaders that said news coverage of the bishop was "based on inaccuracy and bias."

New troubles

In recent months, Bishop Grahmann has faced several new embarrassments.

The bishop has taken no action against one priest who was accused of groping a man during a blessing and another priest who testified that he sometimes handled parishioners' genitals when they had health concerns. The second priest also faces state and federal investigations of his independent ministry for immigrants, which has charged them millions while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the priest and his associates.

Last month, Bishop Grahmann reinstated a third priest who had admitted fathering a child with a nun he was accused of raping and who had violated orders not to work in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The move was rescinded after parishioners protested and The News reported that Dallas never checked with the archdiocese, which had invalidated marriages he performed and accused him of operating a ministry for personal gain.

All three priests have denied wrongdoing.

Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante, who became nationally known last year as a reform advocate, publicly criticized Bishop Grahmann last fall for not demoting the priest in the blessing incident. He has since adopted a much lower profile and said he expects to be transferred instead of taking over the Dallas Diocese, which the Vatican sent him to do 3 ? years ago.

Evidence in the 1997 cover-up trial showed that Bishop Grahmann had let Mr. Kos keep working after the priest ignored repeated orders to stop having boys sleep over at church residences. The bishop also testified that "there was no reason" to remove Mr. Kos after a social worker who specializes in child abuse said the man sounded like a "textbook pedophile."

Damages paid to victims of Mr. Kos and several other priests now total about $38 million. There are pending abuse claims against seven clerics, as well as at least one layman.

In an interview last year, when clergy scandals were rocking Boston and several other cities around the country, Bishop Grahmann denounced accusations that his colleagues had been covering up abuse. "That's a bunch of bull," he said.

This week's Texas Catholic article said "there have been only two child abuse cases [in the Dallas Diocese] since 1997 when new procedures were put into place." One involved a priest who has since been imprisoned; two lay day care workers have been implicated in the other.

In both cases, the article said, "the diocese cooperated fully and turned the cases over to the Dallas police" promptly.

It said that several people listed as signatories of the letter "have sought to do business with the diocese or complained about business matters that reflect self-interests."

The article did not give specifics on this point, but did say that "others listed include five persons who opposed the diocese selling the old St. Ann School property near downtown Dallas. They wanted the diocese to turn the land over to them for a museum to honor early Mexican immigrants to Dallas, but they never raised sufficient funds to purchase the property."

Still others, the article said, had protested Bishop Grahmann's demotion of a pastor who had not fully implemented the diocese's "safe environment policy." That policy, Mr. Havard has said, leads the nation in "efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults."


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