EDITORIAL: Integrity of Brownsville diocese in question; contrition asked of church leaders

There is no delicate way to say this about an institution that so many believe in so fervently, and put their faith in daily. It’s for that very reason — so many entrust their lives and their faith in an afterlife with the Catholic church and its teachings — that we feel compelled to point out that the Brownsville Diocese has a serious image problem right now and church officials must address it quickly.

Testimony in the recent high-profile trial of former priest John Feit — who Thursday was found guilty of murdering parishioner and beauty queen Irene Garza in McAllen in 1960, resulting in the 85-year-old being sentenced to life in prison — pointed to collusion between former church officials and law enforcement to cover up Feit’s involvement at the time.

That was underscored by Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez who last Friday decried the actions of the church, among other institutions, at that time.

And it has many in this pro-Catholic region questioning whether such an incident could be repeated today or whether the church — which was just beginning to recover from a sex abuse scandal 15 years ago emanating from revelations involving the powerful Boston diocese and involving dozens of priests who abused children — has truly reformed its ways.

Such questions came to the fore as a nonprofit group called Voice of the Faithful, borne of the earlier sex scandals, rated the Diocese of Brownsville among the lowest in the country as it relates to openness regarding church finances.

In short, we call on the Diocese of Brownsville to begin a dialog for the benefit of so much of the faithful in this community.

Evidence presented during the Feit trial seems to have opened sensitive wounds that have raised concerns from even the most devout Catholics.

And while the actions from 57 years ago cannot, and should not, be blamed on today’s church leaders, it is up to them to assure their flock that the church will do all in its power to prevent such actions as these from ever happening again.

It is up to the leaders to begin a healing process in the name of Irene Garza.

Now is the time for our Catholic church leaders to detail what steps they have taken to protect parishioners, and how they monitor clergy to ensure they do not stray from the morals that they preach from the altar that we should all follow every day.

Most importantly, now is the time for Catholic church officials to step up and console our community through the process of contrition that they teach the faithful. For as the Bible teaches, saving grace comes to all who merely ask for it.

We have the utmost respect for Bishop Daniel E. Flores, who runs the Brownsville Diocese, which oversees the RGV. And we sympathize with him for being in this situation and for taking the fall, so to speak, particularly since in 1960 the Diocese of Corpus Christi oversaw Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where Feit was a priest.

But as the church’s supreme religious leader for the Rio Grande Valley, Bishop Flores must be the one to lead us out of this despair and to console us with the knowledge that the church works for its congregants and does its best to follow the Word of God.

Transparency by the church is key right now. And it must begin with Bishop Flores.