A cardinal who heads the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is overseeing the U.S. Church’s response to the sex abuse crisis was accused of covering up a sexual misconduct incident.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Texas-based Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was the subject of a recent Associated Press article accusing him of allowing an abusive priest to remain in his church position.
According to the AP, in 2016 Cardinal DiNardo met with a married woman named Laura Pontikes, who brought a credible allegation of sexual abuse against Monsignor Frank Rossi.
Pontikes told the cardinal that Rossi had taken advantage of her sexually while serving as a spiritual counselor to her during her time of emotional vulnerability.
“He took a woman that went into a church truly looking for God, and he took me for himself,” explained Pontikes to the AP.
Pontikes said that while DiNardo assured her that Rossi would be held accountable for his actions, she found out that he had taken a new job at a church elsewhere in Texas.
The AP story went on to point to other issues with the archdiocese, including two sex abuse victims of another priest claiming that DiNardo failed to take their claims seriously, and allowing the Rev. John Keller to celebrate Mass despite accusations of abuse.
DiNardo offered an apology in 2002 for allowing the Rev. George McFadden to continue in his position as priest despite having sexually abused at least 25 children.
In response to the AP report, the Archdiocese released a statement denouncing the story as “one-sided,” “inaccurate,” “unprofessional,” and “biased.”
“At each step in this matter, Cardinal DiNardo has reacted swiftly and justly — and has always kept the welfare of the Pontikeses in mind. A number of the quotes attributed to the Cardinal are an absolute fabrication,” stated the archdiocese.
The archdiocese explained that after Pontikes met with DiNardo, the cardinal removed Rossi from his parish days later and sent him to a treatment center.
“Upon his return to Houston, Monsignor Rossi formally resigned from the parish on May 6th. He then went to a rehabilitation program until early December,” continued the archdiocese.
“Monsignor Rossi completed his rehabilitation process and was recommended to be returned to active ministry by the professionals who assessed him. Cardinal DiNardo, at the request of the Pontikeses, agreed not to reassign Monsignor Rossi in any capacity in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.”
The archdiocese further stated that DiNardo told the Pontikeses about his decision and that “Mr. Pontikes expressed his gratitude for that decision.”
The allegations from the AP report come the week before the USCCB will gather in Baltimore, Maryland, for their Spring General Assembly. Part of the agenda will focus on responding to the sex abuse crisis.
“During the assembly, the bishops will discuss and vote on bishop accountability measures to respond to the abuse crisis and will also hear reports from the National Advisory Council and an annual progress report by the National Review Board,” stated the USCCB.