Church Watches as Dallas Diocese Regroups

Article excerpt

Since a jury awarded 11 plaintiffs $119.6 million in a sex abuse trial against the Dallas diocese last year, the diocese has undergone a major restructuring. Church leaders say the reorganization was prompted by a need to restore trust and prevent future abuses.

Among changes, Mary Edlund, 50, became the first woman' in the diocese's 107-year history to hold a top position.

Appointed vice chancellor in the fall of 1997, then chancellor in August, Edlund's office serves as clearinghouse for concerns of area Catholics, including complaints about priests. Edlund has estimated that less than 10 percent of diocesan chancellors in the United States are women, and most of those, she said, are nuns.

As part of the restructuring, deacons and lay persons have been appointed to key advisory boards -- some that are new, some formerly composed of only clergy.

The goal in expanding leadership beyond priests is "to provide more objectivity," Edlund said in an interview in diocesan offices. "We wanted dedicated Catholics from the community to look at all of our systems and operations so that we could build in not only better safeguards but better accountability. We looked for people with managerial skills and expertise in human resources."

Edlund, mother of four, has worked for the diocese for nearly 20 years, first in religious education, later as director of pastoral planning and research. She holds a master's degree in religious education from The Catholic University of America.

Although greater involvement by laity in filling diocesan posts reflects a trend across the church, the changes are particularly noteworthy in Dallas. In the landmark sex abuse case, plaintiffs accused diocesan officials of negligence in ordaining former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos without thoroughly investigating his background and later for failing to act on complaints about his conduct. Kos, a defendant with the diocese in the civil trial, was convicted in March of criminal child molestation. He is serving a life sentence.

"What we've done here is to advance reform in the church," said Bronson Havard, editor of The Texas Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. Havard was instrumental in bringing about some of the changes. He proposed forming a "crisis management team" to Bishop Charles V. Grahmann as a first step in responding to issues raised by the civil trial last year, then served as a member of the nine-member committee.

Under terms of the restructuring:

* The top diocesan personnel board, previously called the Priests Personnel Board and composed entirely of clergy, now consists of four priests, one deacon and three lay people. The board makes all pastoral assignments for Dallas parishes.

* Two new boards are in operation, one to oversee pastoral concerns; the other to review candidates for the priesthood and diaconate and make recommendations: independently of those put forth by seminaries or formation programs.

* A fourth board, called the Conduct Review Board, deals with complaints of sexual misconduct by priests or other diocesan employees. Members, who currently include a psychologist, a specialist in protective services, a police officer and a civil attorney, serve anonymously. …