Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller speaks to the media following the release of a report detailing credible allegations of sexual misconduct from priests of the Catholic Church dating back to 1940 in San Antonio.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller speaks to the media following the release of a list detailing credible allegations of sexual misconduct against priests in the archdiocese dating back to 1940. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On the same day the Archdiocese of San Antonio released a list of priests who have been the subject of credible sexual misconduct and abuse allegations, an independent commission of lay people released its own report largely agreeing with the archdiocese’s findings.

However, the independent commission disagreed with the archdiocese’s conclusion on a sexual abuse allegation against Father Virgilio Elizondo, who died by suicide in 2016. The archdiocese determined Elizondo was not among the 55 clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. He was named in a 2015 lawsuit, which accused him of failing to report sexual abuse and also of kissing and fondling a minor.

The independent commission’s report argued that accusations against Elizondo should be viewed through the same lens that allegations of other deceased priests were. When looking at those cases, the archdiocese mostly determined those survivors to be credible, the lay commission said.

“We believe that is the proper conclusion in the matter of [Father] Elizondo when we compare the allegations in his case with the allegations in other claims asserted against other deceased clerics,” the lay commission wrote. “We express no opinion on whether the claim will meet the preponderance of the evidence standard required in civil litigation.”

In remarks broadcast on the archdiocese-owned Catholic television station Thursday, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller spoke about the report, which was published on the archdiocese’s web page, and the “bitter wind that has been sweeping through the Church.” 

“The archdiocese is profoundly aware this report may cause further grief to survivors of clergy sexual abuse of minors or others abused by children,” García-Siller said. “We pray this report will assist survivors who do not feel attended to, who have been ignored by family or the church. It is our hope they will find peace.”

The archdiocese report listed 55 clergy named in credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor while working in the archdiocese. Of that number, 54 are priests and one is a deacon who has since died. The archbishop confirmed that the priests are no longer authorized to minister. 

Included on the list is priest Edward Pavlicek, who was removed in October 2018 from clerical duties following allegations of abuse that took place between 1986 and 1988 when he was serving as a priest in the archdiocese.

The most recent allegation of clerical sexual abuse was filed with the archdiocese on Wednesday, said Father Martin Leopold, assistant to the moderator of curia. He said the review board has not yet been able to review the allegation, but the report will continue to be updated.

Members of the Catholic Church and staff of the Archdiocese of San Antonio listen as Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller speaks to the credible allegations of sexual misconduct from the San Antonio Catholic Church.
Members of the Catholic Church and staff of the Archdiocese of San Antonio listen as Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller speaks about credible allegations of sexual misconduct against priests in the archdiocese. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The independent commission, chaired by retired Chief Justice of the Texas Fourth District Court of Appeals Catherine Stone, reviewed approximately 140 claims of sexual abuse involving 130 victims and 5o clerics – a “heartbreaking path of human destruction caused by men who violated sacred vows, human decency, and criminal laws,” the commission wrote.

The pain of many of these survivors is still evident years later,” the commission wrote. “Many survivors suffer from poverty, inability to find and keep a job, substance abuse, mental illness, and legal woes. These circumstances were a common theme in the files we reviewed. Although we can never know with certainty the full effect that the childhood abuse had on them, we do know they have suffered and each of us is deeply saddened by their plight. Other survivors have built successful careers, moved away, and seemingly moved on. Their strength inspires us.”

Earlier, García-Siller said he was amazed by the resilience and endurance he has seen in abuse survivors. One victim he met with had been abused 60 years ago, he said.

“They disclose their pain, their struggles, their anger, and their anger with society, with the church, their anger with God,” García-Siller said. “Something I have learned is that some of them have been going over this tragic situation … but have been able to build up their lives little by little.”

He added victims and survivors mostly emphasized they wanted to ensure abuse does not continue in the Catholic Church.

“They want to be sure that they do something with an intervention, not only for themselves with healing and peace but for other people,” the archbishop said. “And that is very commendable. They take a lot of risks themselves.”

Five archbishops served in the time period from which the commission and archdiocese reviewed allegations. Robert Emmet Lucey served from 1941 to 1969, Francis James Furey from 1969 to 1979, Patrick Fernandez Flores from 1979 to 2004, Jose Horacio Gomez Velasco from 2004 to 2010, and García-Siller from 2010.

No allegations have been reported since 2010, and two were reported from 2000 to 2009. The archdiocese found 15 credible accusations from the 1970s, the period with the highest number of reported allegations.

Although the Legislature has gradually widened the statute of limitations on reporting sexual assault against children since the 1960s, events that occurred before September 1987 cannot be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said.

“Our hands are tied if the law says that their cases are beyond the statute of limitations,” Gonzales said in a prepared statement. “I would hope that those individuals would avail themselves of counseling and do what they need to do to feel some closure. Unfortunately, if a case is too old we have to abide by the law. If the law prevents us from prosecuting, then we will be unable to go forward.”

Texas law no longer puts limitations on prosecuting sexual assault of children.

While the independent commission praised García-Siller for deferring to the archdiocese’s review board in claims of clerical abuse, it recommended that the archdiocese, the review board, and the Office of Victim Assistance and Safe Environment (OVASE) better develop written policies about children’s safety and review them annually. The commission also recommended standardizing the way archdiocese receives and manages allegation claims, and establish a permanent advisory board of lay people. Read the full report here.

The other 14 dioceses in Texas also promised to release reports of credibly accused priests after reviewing records going back to 1950. An estimated 8.5 million Catholics in 1,320 parishes live in Texas.

The commitment to reviewing documents and identifying credibly accused priests comes after a high-profile Pennsylvania grand jury report last August, which found more than 1,000 children were abused by Catholic priests in the state. The report named one priest who served in San Antonio from 1976 until his death in 1995.

The Jesuits of the U.S. Central and Southern Province conducted their own review and released a list of 42 credibly accused priests in December. The list included three former San Antonio priests, all of whom have died.

The archdiocese urged other survivors who want to report abuse to do so with the Archdiocesan Office of Victim Assistance and Safe Environment at 210-734-7786 or 877-700-1888 and to notify law enforcement.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.