DALLAS (AP) — All 15 Catholic dioceses in Texas will release early next year the names of clergy who have been "credibly accused" of sexual abuse of a minor, the Diocese of Dallas said in a statement Wednesday.
Texas bishops decided last month to release the lists of names by Jan. 31 as part of their effort "to protect children from sexual abuse" while promoting "healing and a restoration of trust" in the church, the statement said .
Dallas Bishop Edward Burns said the investigation constitutes a "major project" because it will include all 1,320 Catholic parishes in Texas.
"My brother bishops and I hope this action can be a step that leads to healing for all those who have been harmed by members of the Church," Burns said in the statement. "I add my sincere sorrow for the pain that has been caused for victims and the Catholic faithful."
A spokeswoman for the Dallas Diocese did not return a message Wednesday seeking an explanation of what will constitute a credible accusation against a current or former priest.
Wednesday's announcement came a day after Burns told parishioners that his diocese has hired a team of former state and federal law enforcement officers to review the personnel files of 220 priests now serving in the diocese. An investigation will review any accusation against a priest, not just ones relating to the sexual abuse of minors. The investigation could be expanded to include those who previously served.
"Opening our files to outside investigators and releasing the names is something I have been considering for some time," Burns said in Wednesday's statement. "Since I believe it is the right thing to do, the Diocese of Dallas has had outside investigators, a team made up of former FBI, state troopers and other experts in law enforcement, examining our files since February, and they still have work to do."
The investigation comes after Burns in August revealed a former pastor, Edmundo Paredes, was accused of abusing three boys more than a decade ago. Paredes, who is also accused of stealing church funds, has not been heard from since about March and The Dallas Morning News reported that he may have fled to the Philippines, his native country.
This week's developments also follow accusations made last week by a third person alleging a Houston-area Catholic priest, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, sexually touched him when he was a teenager. That probe has involved Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, who's leading the American church's response to sexual abuse.
DiNardo is already accused by two other people of disregarding their reports against La Rosa-Lopez, the pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in the Houston suburb of Richmond. La Rosa-Lopez was arrested in September and charged with four counts of indecency with a child.
The move this week by the 15 Texas dioceses is consistent with efforts in other states, such as California and Ohio.
But the actions of the Dallas Diocese to employ a team of former law officers to investigate its priests appear to differ from elsewhere. For instance, a Roman Catholic diocese in Connecticut announced last week it's chosen a retired state judge to lead an investigation into sexual abuse of children by priests.
The recent developments follow Pope Francis' removal in July of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for allegedly groping a teenage altar boy in the 1970s, and also the release in August of a lengthy Pennsylvania grand jury report that listed the names of more than 300 priests and outlined the details of sexual abuse allegations.
The investigation launched in Texas also differs from other states such as Maryland where that state's attorney general is delving into records of the Baltimore archdiocese . Michael Norris, who leads the Houston chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, credited Texas church leaders with taking action but called for the Texas Attorney General's Office to become involved.
"What I lack is trust," Norris said. "When I hear they're hiring a team of investigators, I prefer that it be totally independent."
A spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General's Office said the agency would act only if requested by a district attorney to do so.