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Spotlight Report

Renewal of faith

Roiled by abuse scandal, Dallas diocese recovered by reaching out

By Tatsha Robertson, Globe Staff, 3/19/2002

Jay Lemberger (left) committed suicide in 1992 at age 21 after allegedly suffering years of abuse by the Rev. Rudolph Kos (right). Above, the two in 1993, when Lemberger was 12.

Bishop Charles Grahmann has drawn criticism that he did not react quickly enough to abuse allegations in his diocese.  (AP File Photo)

Sexual abuse charges are now supposed to be brought to Chancellor Mary Edlund, an advisor to Bishop Grahmann.  (AP Photo)
DALLAS - Every recent Wednesday and Thursday night, a rush of children has packed the choir loft at All Saints Catholic Church here to rehearse for an upcoming Easter program.

The youthful enthusiasm is one sign of resurgence in the sprawling parish, which was the epicenter of one of the biggest sex scandals to hit the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s. A former pastor of All Saints was sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing boys, and the Diocese of Dallas paid his 11 victims and their families a total of $31 million, which still stands as one of the largest settlements by the church in an abuse case.

Today, All Saints boasts a record number of parishioners and is building another school to accommodate growing enrollments. The Diocese of Dallas, which had to mortgage and sell property to pay the sex-abuse settlement awarded in 1997, has made a comeback, too. By 2000, all financial debts incurred had been paid in full. Collection plates that went unfilled after the scandal have been overflowing of late.

The diocese, with a flock of 843,000, has emerged as a portrait of the Catholic Church's financial resilience and, in the opinion of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, a model for adopting strict safeguards designed to prevent sexual abuse.

Priests across the diocese have been forbidden from being alone with children. Small windows have been cut into the wooden doors of parish offices, including the one of the Rev. Tom Cloherty, pastor at All Saints since 1997. Church policies now mandate that volunteers, deacons, lay ministers, youth ministers, teachers, and priests be fingerprinted and subjected to criminal background checks.

The diocese has also served as a recent source of guidance and inspiration for the Archdiocese of Boston. Since a bigger scandal broke in Boston, diocese officials said they have conversed with Boston church officials and provided them with information about the changes instituted in Dallas.

''I am keeping my eye on Boston with a great deal of pain because I can understand the pain that the church is going through, the pain that the faithful are going through, and I want to tell them that they can get through this and they can have a better and stronger church,'' said Bronson Havard, spokesman for the Dallas diocese.

But as church officials in Boston can expect to discover, there is a long-term price to pay in loss of credibility and trust. After a half-dozen years, the church remains a target of skepticism and anger from critics who say the tragic story is not over. Some say the diocese still does not understand what went wrong. Diocese officials, for their part, concede the quest to restore credibility is an ongoing struggle.

In 1997, a jury awarded 11 plaintiffs $119.6 million after it found that the diocese had ignored and concealed a decade of sexual abuse by the Rev. Rudolph Kos. Jurors held that the Dallas diocese showed ''a shameful lack of concern for the victims and their families.'' Later, a settlement between the church and the victims reduced the award to $31 million. In a separate criminal trial, Kos was convicted of seven counts of child sexual abuse.

Pat Lemberger, whose son was abused by Kos, said last week that his family remains unsatisfied with the church's response to the scandal.

''The church hasn't done a damn thing,'' Lemberger said. ''All they do is talk.''

Dozens of parishioners have left All Saints since the scandal and have rejected the church's call to return.

Lemberger's son, Jay, committed suicide in 1992 at age 21. As an altar boy at All Saints, he suffered years of abuse by Kos.

Lemberger, a plaintiff in an ongoing civil lawsuit against the church, said he blames the church for his son's death - not Kos, who Lemberger says is mentally ill.

Kos was convicted of molesting boys at All Saints and two other parishes in Texas from 1981 to 1992. According to testimony, the pastor, who was 52 at the time of the civil trial, began his abuse with foot massages during overnight stays at the rectory.

Since the trials, Lemberger said, his two adult daughters have left the Catholic Church. He and his wife have tried a number of different denominations.

Although Lemberger's successful construction company and the settlement against the church would allow him to live a life of leisure, he continues working around the country, traveling by trailer.

But the pain of his son's death and of the scandal haunts him so much, he said, that every time he parks his trailer in a new city, he picks up the telephone book to call a new psychologist.

''Things are not normal. They can never be. They never will be,'' Lemberger said.

In Dallas, the pastoral tradition of allowing children to spend time alone with a priest is a thing of the past.

''I am not going to lie to you and say that it's not restrictive,'' said Cloherty, sitting in the pastor's office in All Saints.

Cloherty became the pastor of All Saints about the time the trials against Kos and the diocese were ending. Soon after arriving, Cloherty stood at the pulpit and discussed the scandal with an openness that stunned parishioners.

''I use the analogy that the train is leaving the station, and those who are ready to hop on board are welcome to do such,'' he said. ''But if you're not ready, we will be around, but I am not going to stay in the station and wait until everything clears around the Rudy Kos issue.''

It was hard for the Dallas diocese to move on. As in Boston, it was a terrible ordeal for the Catholic community. The church was thrust into the media spotlight, Havard said. Parishioners were trying their best to believe in the church, and the church was trying to find a way to regain their trust, said Eileen Burke-Sullivan, a consultant to the Archdiocese of Boston who lived in Dallas and was active in the church there.

Parishioners worried their tithes would be used for to pay the plaintiffs. Insurance paid all but $11 million, Havard said.

Local Catholics were also angry at Bishop Charles Grahmann, who still oversees the diocese. Grahmann arrived in 1990, after most of the abuse had occurred, but many felt he did not react quickly enough to do something about Kos.

Immediately after the trials, the church set up boards that consist of both laity and clergy. Mary Edlund, a grandmother, became the first lay person to hold the post of chancellor. Charges of sexual abuse are supposed to be brought to Edlund, who also serves as an adviser to the bishop.

''Historically, systems in the church were closed and insular. The various advisory boards were comprised of all clergy advising the bishop. It was a closed and insular system that promulgated a circle-the-wagon mentality,'' Edlund said. ''What we have created with the boards has been an attempt to take what was closed and open them up. We don't have any of these boards that are all clergy.''

The church encouraged parishioners who had been abused to come forward.

Some did, and Edlund and other church officials said they turned eight names over to the district attorney's office. Some of those eight priests had already retired; the others were removed.

Although Edlund and Havard said the church has rid itself of all abusive priests, the two diocesan officials say there is no way to know whether the problem will resurface, given the scope of sexual abuse in the country.

''This is kind of a second wave of publicity,'' Havard said of the Boston scandal. ''I have to wonder - wasn't what happened in Dallas a wake-up call? Why are we having a second wave of problems in some diocese?''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/19/2002.
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