A Texas priest has disappeared amid allegations of sexual abuse that occurred more than a decade ago, according to the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.
Over the weekend, parishioners at St. Cecilia Catholic Church learned that their now-former priest, the Rev. Edmundo Paredes, was under investigation for allegedly molesting three teenage boys.
Bishop Edward Burns told the St. Cecilia Catholic Church congregation that the allegations against Paredes, who had served at the church for 27 years, were found to be credible.
The 69-year-old Paredes had also come under investigation in May 2017 for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the church, according to The Dallas Morning News. He admitted to financial misconduct and was suspended from the church in June 2017.
The church's officials believe Paredes may have returned to the Philippines, his native country.
What did the bishop say?
Burns told church members that the allegations had come to light in February. Three men told church officials that they had been sexually assaulted by Paredes when they were in their mid-teens. Burns told the church during his message Saturday:
“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of these allegations. Our priority was to determine the truth and protect the victims who showed courage by coming forward. With the utmost sensitivity to victims, I have pledged to continue efforts of transparency and need to make you aware of this atrocious and sad event. I want to assure the entire community that we are working to find solutions to create a safer environment. I offer my heartfelt apologies that these crimes have happened in your parish and please know I am praying for all victims of sexual abuse and for all of you here in the St. Cecilia community."
The bishop said diocesan officials immediately filed a report with local law enforcement agencies upon learning about the accusations so that a criminal investigation could be launched.
What did church members say?
Some members said they were not expecting this type of news following last week's scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed 70 years of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
“I thought they were just going to announce about the Pennsylvania thing, but I did not expect this,” Sylvia Segura said, the Texas Catholic reported. “But we are strong Catholics. I think this is a strong religion that we have and we are going to continue to be Catholic. This is not going to change us. This is not going to break us from our faith. It has sustained us to this day and it will keep sustaining us.”
Segura, who said she first met Paredes in the 1980s, also recalled the former priest's retirement party last June, according to the Morning News. She said she thought he was still living on the church's property until Sunday's news.
Authorities in the Philippines have reportedly been unable to locate Paredes there.
The Catholic Church plans to hire private investigators to look for Paredes.