Former priest in Fort Worth Diocese gets 50 years in second sex-abuse trial

Dallas Morning News/March 28, 2009

The Rev. Thomas Teczar couldn't stomach his 25-year prison sentence for sexually abusing a child. In 2007, he persuaded a Texas appeals court to grant him a new trial.

As gambles go, it was a bad one.

Jurors in Teczar's second trial sentenced the notorious Catholic priest to 50 years in prison on Friday, his 68th birthday.

"Victims got to celebrate," Eastland County District Attorney Russ Thomason said. "This is effectively a life sentence."

Teczar is a central figure in the cover-up scandal that has cost the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese several million dollars, led to the unmasking of several other predator priests and damaged the reputation of veteran church leaders, most notably the late Bishop Joseph Delaney.

The scandal began unraveling in 1998, when The Dallas Morning News discovered that Teczar had fled Texas a few years earlier after refusing to answer questions from an Eastland County grand jury. Officials there were investigating allegations that two of Teczar's neighborhood friends had molested children and that he had encouraged them to destroy photographic evidence.

Delaney initially told The News that Teczar left Eastland County, about 100 miles west of Fort Worth, simply because he didn't want to work there any longer. Later, he admitted knowing about the grand jury investigation but said he'd been assured, by Teczar's lawyers, that authorities agreed to end the inquiry if the priest moved away.

Eastland County authorities denied making any deal and accused the bishop, who died in 2005, of thwarting their investigation. The Texas Rangers ultimately tracked down Teczar in Massachusetts and had him arrested.

Big regret

Thomason said Friday that he had one big regret about the case.

"I would have loved to have prosecuted Bishop Delaney," the district attorney said. "But his death put an end to that.

"I believe that he contributed greatly to what happened to our youngsters here in Eastland County."

Delaney was investigated but never charged in the case.

He hired Teczar in the late 1980s after the priest was suspended in the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., where he had a long history of misconduct with boys. The priest also had been convicted of providing alcohol to a minor and had spent time in a treatment program for molesters.

"No bishop individually has been criminally charged with concealing clergy sex crimes," said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

A 2002 review by The News found that at least two-thirds of the nation's bishops had allowed priests to keep working after they were accused of abuse. Since then, grand jury investigations outside Texas have implicated some bishops in cover-ups but concluded that the violations were too old to prosecute.

Thomason said the Fort Worth Diocese has been "a lot more cooperative" under Delaney's successor, Bishop Kevin Vann. But even that has taken some time, he said.

During Teczar's original trial, in 2007, "the diocese was very much obstructing," the prosecutor said. This time, a priest testified in a limited role for the prosecution, establishing the authenticity of church documents.

The first conviction was overturned because of expert-witness qualification issues and testimony about abuse for which Teczar was not criminally charged. At his request, it was a nonjury trial.

Prosecutors prevailed again on Thursday, when jurors took only about 50 minutes to convict Teczar of sexually assaulting and molesting an 11-year-old boy in 1990.

Trouble retraced

Teczar did not testify during the guilt-innocence phase. But he did take the stand during a hearing to determine his punishment, when prosecutors retraced all the trouble he had dodged over the decades.

"He denied everything," jury foreman David Bailey said.

He said jurors compromised on the 50-year sentence, with some wanting more prison time for the priest and some wanting less. "I do believe justice was served," Bailey added.

State officials said Teczar could be considered for parole in 12 ½ years. But sex offenders in Texas rarely are released when first eligible.

Defense attorney Robin Norris did not respond to a phone message Friday.

The Fort Worth Diocese has paid about $6 million in civil settlements to six Teczar victims, including the one around whom the criminal case was built. The six were represented in those cases by Dallas lawyer Tahira Khan Merritt, who also assisted Eastland County prosecutors.

Merritt won access in the civil cases to diocesan records on several other abusers. A Tarrant County judge, at the diocese's request, sealed the files.

The News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram jointly sued to unseal them and won in 2006.

Massachusetts church officials asked the Vatican several years ago to remove Teczar from the priesthood. At last word, there was no decision.

"It adds insult to injury," said David Lewcon, a Massachusetts victim of Teczar's who testified at the sentencing hearing. "What is it going to take?"

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