[Another disgraced AmChurch bishop (now deceased)]
From: One troubled priest who got a second chance [from a bleeding-heart liberal bishop and blew it]
By Ashley Powers
Los Angeles Times
December 30, 2013
Catholic Bishop Leroy Matthiesen believed that even convicted abusers had a place in the priesthood. “We cannot in good conscience now wash them off our hands,” he wrote in his book. When he met Father John Salazar, the priest had recently gotten out of prison in California and was staying at a church-run treatment center for accused abusers.
Just before Christmas 1990, Bishop Leroy Matthiesen traveled from his home state of Texas to a mountainous patch of New Mexico. Pine-dotted and serene, Jemez Springs was home to a church-run treatment center for accused abusers.
Salazar had been there since his prison stint in California. He had been banned from the L.A. archdiocese, but like many abusers of his era, he had not been defrocked.
“What I want to believe,” he told his fellow clergymen in a letter during his criminal case, “is that you will treat me as the prodigal son returning back to the Father with open arms and rejoicing.”
In the Catholic Church, it wasn’t an outrageous proposition. Each diocese was essentially run as its own fiefdom, at least in personnel matters. All Salazar needed was a so-called benevolent bishop, someone willing to forgive what the legal system wouldn’t.
The treatment center staff called Matthiesen. He ran the Diocese of Amarillo, where 38,000 Catholics were scattered across the Baptist-heavy Texas Panhandle.
A plain-spoken man raised on a cotton farm, he thought of himself as a friend to his priests, even sharing beer and Doritos with seminarians. By the time he died in 2010, he was widely known for his work protesting nuclear weapons and the death penalty.
Early in his tenure, Matthiesen wrote in his book, a furious parishioner threatened to hang a cleric he said had molested several boys. The bishop confronted the priest. He confessed. “I thereupon ordered him to leave the Diocese of Amarillo before sundown,” Matthiesen wrote.
He told me that he had developed a relationship with one of the boys.”
— Bishop Leroy Matthiesen
The bishop later regretted it. Even convicted abusers had a place in the priesthood, he said, though the most dangerous should be kept away from children. “We cannot in good conscience now wash them off our hands,” he wrote.
In Jemez Springs, he sat down with Salazar. “He told me that he had developed a relationship with one of the boys. At that point I didn’t even ask how far that went,” Matthiesen said in an interview for a documentary called “The Scarlet Bond.” The bishop invited Salazar to Texas. “I was never sorry that I did.”
The bishop said he hired at least six more priests from church treatment centers during his tenure. Msgr. Harold Waldow, a retired diocese official, said the actual number is closer to 20. “I sometimes refer to these guys as wounded healers,” Matthiesen said in the documentary. “They could understand the weaknesses of other people.”
Cardinal Roger Mahony dashed off a letter to a Vatican representative after he learned Salazar’s career had been resurrected, warning that the hiring of “seriously disordered” priests in Texas put parishoners and the church “at grave risk.” (Los Angeles Times) More photos
In July 1991, Salazar started at Yolanda Villegas’ church. He was still on parole. He soon used the last name Salazar-Jimenez.
At the time, it was common for bishops to shuffle abusers around, but very few had been convicted. Fearing that the Piarist order could be held liable if Salazar molested again, its attorney sent the Amarillo diocese a copy of his criminal file.
In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony dashed off a letter to a Vatican representative in Washington, D.C., shortly after he learned Salazar’s career had been resurrected. Matthiesen, he said, was hiring priests who were “seriously disordered” and putting parishioners and the church “at grave risk.”
When Mahony told the Amarillo bishop about his letter, Matthiesen fired back: “I am able to keep careful tabs on all our priests. … What I observe now is a lot of good taking place.”