The FortWorth Catholic Diocese's sexual abuse cover-up scandal widenedThursday, as Bishop Kevin Vann said church officials had left a prieston duty until this month despite his admission that he sexually abuseda child in the 1970s.
The bishop said at a hastily calledlate-afternoon news conference that officials discovered the admissionfrom the Rev. Gilbert Pansza only recently while "continuing to reviewthe files of the diocese" and now have removed him from his pastor'sjob in Wichita Falls.
A Tarrant County judge ordered the diocese to review all clergy filesin 2004 and turn over all records of abuse allegations to Dallas lawyerTahira Khan Merritt, who had filed a lawsuit accusing the diocese ofcovering up such matters. Those files included nothing about FatherPansza.
Ms. Merritt reacted angrily Thursday to BishopVann's announcement that the church had left Father Pansza on duty,despite the admission of sexual abuse.
"This so-calledsudden discovery of an additional file raises in my mind seriousquestions about whether the judicial process was abused," she said.
"How many more files are yet to be discovered?"
Ms. Merritt urged Judge Len Wade, who oversaw the litigation, to look into the matter.
She also called on the Tarrant County district attorney to launch acriminal investigation and obtain, by subpoena or search warrant, alldiocese files on sexual misconduct allegations.
Duringthe litigation with Ms. Merritt, the diocese was forced to give herfiles on seven priests other than the one who was accused of abusingher clients. Judge Wade sealed the seven priests' files at thediocese's request.
Last year, The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram begana court battle aimed at unsealing those records. The newspapers won thefight last month, obtaining more than 700 pages showing how churchofficials helped predators stay in ministry for two decades whilehiding information from police and the public.
"The Tarrant County district attorney's office has started looking intomatters regarding the disclosures," prosecutor Mitch Poe said Thursdaynight. "We take these types of abuse scenarios very seriously."
Additionally, North Richland Hills police are investigating a recentallegation that a priest named in the records, the Rev. Philip Magaldi,sexually assaulted a boy in 1994 outside a shopping center.
All of the abusers whose records were unsealed worked under BishopVann's predecessor, Bishop Joseph Delaney, and have been removed fromministry or died. Bishop Delaney died last year.
Nearlyhalf of the 700 pages deal with Father Magaldi, who worked as anassociate pastor at St. John the Apostle in North Richland Hills until1999 and has denied wrongdoing.
Father Pansza, 55, heldthe same position at St. John from 2000 – the year he became a priest –until 2002. He could not be reached for comment Thursday night, norcould diocesan officials.
The abuse Father Panszaadmitted occurred long before he became a priest, a diocesan newsrelease stressed. It did not say when he admitted it.
Church officials said they have received no accusations that he hasabused any children since becoming a priest. U.S. bishops agreed in2002, at a historic summit in Dallas, that any priest who had eversexually abused a minor would be permanently barred from ministry.
From 2002 until June of this year, Father Pansza was pastor of threesmall churches in Bridgeport, Decatur and Jacksboro. In July, he becamepastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Wichita Falls, according tothe news release.
Father Pansza previously was thesubject of news coverage in 2005, when he was kicked out of a privatelyrun state prison in Bridgeport. Warden Priscella Miles said then thatshe ended his volunteer ministry to male inmates because of hisdemeanor and because he created security problems, according to the Wise County Messenger.
The priest was quoted as saying the trouble began when he insisted thatCatholic Masses get as much publicity as other religious services. Healso said he didn't know what he had done wrong.