In what they say is an attempt at transparency, the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville released a list last week of local clergymen who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing a minor.
The list, revealed Thursday, Jan. 31, has 13 priests and one deacon who have worked in 42 different parishes across the Rio Grande Valley but doesn’t list the years or where the abuse took place.
Six of the individuals were marked as “Deceased” with the most recent name belonging to Ronaldo Mitchell Chavez, a deacon who served for the San Cristobal Magallanes & Companions Church in Mission who was arrested in 2014 according to a Valley Central article.
“We realize there may be more victims out there who have never reported and we are prepared to assist them with victim’s coordination to help them with processing what they went through,” Bishop Daniel Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville said. “We had a team of seven who went through thousands of documents dating back to the Diocese’s birth in 1965 to make this list to say, ‘this is what we have found. We have to face it honestly to move forward.”
None of the clergy listed are in active ministry in the Diocese of Brownsville, Flores said.
The men listed are:
•Humberto Acosta, 69. Ordained in May 1974 and left the diocese in 1994.
•Lee DaCosta, 81. Ordained in April 1973 and retired in 2012.
•George B. Dyer, 78. Died in 2013
•Armando Escobedo, 82.
•Terrence Fowler, 57 Ordained in June 1988 and was removed from the ministry a decade later.
•Frank Gomez, 85. Died in 2014.
•James Jeffrey, 83, Died in 2017.
•Basil Onyia, 52. Ordained in 1996 and removed from the ministry in 2001.
•Benedicto Ortiz, 80. Died in 2011.
•Salvador Rangel, 55. Died in 2000.
•Ivan M. Rovira, 73. Ordained in May 1971.
•Salomon “David” Sandoval, Born in 1950, died at an unknown date.
•Marti G. Zuber, 68 Ordained in 1976 and removed from the ministry in 1993.
•Ronaldo Mitchell Chavez, 45. Ordained as a deacon in 2010 and removed from the ministry in 2012.
The release of the names came after a decision made last September from state Catholic leaders to release the list. A total of 300 clergymen from across the state were listed by different dioceses according to the Dallas Morning News.
“My heart is broken by this,” Flores said. “I wasn’t sure what number we’d have but one victim is too many so 14 men doing this is absolutely heartbreaking, but this is the reality.”
A few of the priests listed were relocated or moved to different countries after being accused of sexual abuse, according to Bishop Accountability, a website that tracks priests accused of sexual misconduct. Basil Onyia, Humberto Acosta, and Ivan M. Rovira, moved to Nigeria, Venezuela and Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, according to the site.
The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office released a statement concerning the list.
“Our office will be conducting an inquiry into this matter to determine what criminal justice actions may, or need to be, taken in response to this disclosure,” Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz stated.
Flores said that since 2002, the Diocese has had a victim assistance coordinator and has a link to the Texas Abuse Hotline on their website in an effort for the community to report incidents of abuse in the church. He acknowledged that the release of the list could lead to more victims to come forward.
“We want to be available to help the victims heal no matter how old the allegation, I’m sure people are reacting in different ways and it’s causing a great sorrow,” Flores said. “People will react differently, we just have to recognize the human reality of it and try to move forward with a spirit of humility and pray for peace, especially for victims for whom this is, rightly so, very upsetting.”
Anyone who would like to contact the Diocese of Brownsville’s Victim Assistance can call Coordinator Walter Lukaszek at 956-784-5066 or report abuse at txabusehotline.org.