Dallas, Texas, Oct 30, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A Dallas county district judge has ordered Dallas police to return certain documents to the Catholic Diocese of Dallas that were seized during a raid on diocesan property on May 15.
Documents unrelated to the ongoing investigation of sexual abuse allegations against five priests are to be returned, State District Judge Brandon Birmingham ordered last week after reviewing the files that were taken in the raid, WFAA in Dallas reported.
According to a search warrant affidavit, the investigation is focused on five current or former priests of the diocese: Fr. Edmundo Paredes, Fr. Richard Thomas Brown, Fr. Alejandro Buitrago, Fr. William Joseph Hughes, Jr., and Fr. Jeremy Myers. Paredes is the only suspect to have been formally charged, but he is believed to have fled the United States, WFAA reported.
“Therefore, the seizure of any item not related to these five particular persons, for the specific offense listed, exceeds the scope of the search warrant as written,” Birmingham wrote in his order, according to WFAA.
All five men were included in a list of names of clergy “credibly” accused of sexual abuse released by the dioceses of Texas in January. The Diocese of Dallas released the name of 31 accused clerics, including 24 incardinated in the diocese and seven priests either from other dioceses or religious orders who had worked in Dallas.
On May 15, police conducted a raid on the Dallas diocesan chancery offices, as well as on a diocesan warehouse storage facility and the parish of St. Cecilia in Oak Cliff, searching for evidence and information related to the investigation of the five priests.
At the time, Bishop Edward J. Burns of the Diocese of Dallas called the raid “sensationalism, traumatic, and a waste of resources.” Burns said in a statement that the Diocese had been cooperating with police prior to the raid, and that they had been “combing through” more than 200,000 documents in order to find those relevant to the investigation.
“To imply that these documents were intentionally withheld in any capacity is to truly misrepresent the nature of our correspondence with the Dallas Police Department,” Burns said at the time.
Among the documents to be returned to the diocese are a set of files that were labeled “no sexual assault issues,” as well as those that date earlier than January 1, 1950, according to the order.
“All of these documents exceed the scope of the search warrant,” Birmingham said, according to WFAA. Documents that both the diocese and police agree are unrelated to the investigation of the five priests are also to be returned to the diocese, Birmingham said. If there are documents on which the diocese and police cannot agree, Birmingham will review the documents himself and make a decision.
According to the order, police will have 10 business days to return “all documents that both parties agree are privileged,” “all documents the Court has determined to be privileged” and “all documents the Court has determined ‘exceed the scope of the search warrant,’” WFAA reported.
Both police and the diocese were given until December 6 to complete the review of the files, and Birmingham ordered weekly updates on the progress of the review.
The Diocese of Dallas did not respond to questions about Birmingham’s order by deadline.
Police have been investigating the Dallas diocese since February of 2018, when Paredes was accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys over the course of his time at St. Cecilia’s parish. He was suspended from ministry in June 2017 after 27 years at the St. Cecilia’s, under suspicion of having stolen between $60,000 – $80,000 from the parish.
Paredes fled the diocese and his whereabouts are currently unknown, though Burns has previously said the diocese believes he returned to the Philippines, from where he originally came. Both Meyers and Buitrago were removed from ministry in 2018.
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