Six women have filed suit against an Austin, Texas priest, bishop and the Catholic Diocese of Austin, alleging years of sexual abuse and a coverup to conceal the crimes. In a complaint filed with the Travis County District Court, the women accuse Father Isidore Ndagizimana (known as “Father Izzy” by parishioners) of preying on and abusing women.
Plaintiffs Allege Abuse, Harassment At St. Thomas More Church
All six women are members of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Austin. In court filings submitted on Wednesday, November 14, 2018, they claim that Father Ndagizimana would “corner women in the confessional and grope them,” KXAN writes.
The women say that the priest would routinely try to kiss them or touch them inappropriately. Father Ndagizimana would routinely make inappropriate comments, they claim, and would even visit women at their homes when their husbands were away.
One congregant says that Father Ndagizimana blocked the door to the confessional with chairs, started rubbing her thigh as she confessed and forced her to talk about her sex life. He then allegedly pulled her into a hug and stuck his face in her breasts when she was trying to leave. A second woman claims that when she went to the confessional, Ndagizimana grabbed her head as she knelt for absolution and pulled her forward into his groin.
The alleged victims’ names have not been disclosed; they filed the lawsuit anonymously. Ordained in 1985, Father Ndagizimana served assignments at St. Mary Cathedral, Holy Cross, Saint Cyril, Saint Methodius and Saint Albert the Great in the Austin area.
Women Claim Diocese Failed To Address Sexual Misconduct
Worse yet, the women say that the Austin Diocese, represented by Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo knew about the abuse but failed to remove Father Ndagizimana from the ministry. Instead, the plaintiffs claim, Diocese officials repeatedly transferred the priest from parish to parish, while failing to inform the new parishes of his predatory behavior.
A spokesperson for the Austin Diocese, Christian González, told reporters at the Dallas News that Father Ndagizimana has been put on leave pending the lawsuit. It is currently unclear whether or not the priest has retained an attorney.
An attorney for the women, Sean Breen, says that when his clients attempted to report Ndagizimana’s misconduct to church authorities, they were told to remain quiet. At least one woman says that staff at the Diocese of Austin warned her that she could face a defamation suit if she broke her silence about Father Ndagizimana’s unwanted sexual advances.
Another woman was told that “everything that happened in the confessional was confidential and secret.”
Austin Priest Shuttled From Parish To Parish
The saga of Father Ndagizimana follows a common pattern that can be observed in numerous clergy sexual abuse cases, one illustrated in stunning detail by the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report that documen ted the abuse committed by over 300 priests.
After leaving St. Thomas More, Ndagizimana was sent to a counseling center for rehabilitation, then reassigned to churches in Brenham, Somerville and Old Washington. But attorneys say that the Diocese never warned the congregations at these other parishes of the priest’s past misconduct, leaving additional women vulnerable to abuse. “That’s part of the problem,” says Breen.
The women say that complaints against Ndagizimana go far back beyond his time at St. Thomas More. “The bishop’s office indicated to more than one victim that they had ‘a stack of complaints’ against Father Izzy,” attorney Breen says.
“The System Has Been Hijacked”
“The system has been hijacked by a clerical bureaucracy that is allowing victims to be injured and re-injured by Church inaction,” according to Breen. “That system needs to change.”
The plaintiffs also take issue with the church’s system for reporting sexual abuse. The Austin Diocese utilizes a program known as Ethics and Integrity in Ministry, which features a convenient web portal for reporting abuse complaints. The only problem? The program focuses exclusively on “abuse of a minor, elderly adult or adult with a disability,” to the exclusion of adult men and women without disabilities.
In their case, the women claim that Ethics and Integrity in Ministry created an open loophole, allowing the church to dismiss their claims of misconduct. “Part of the purpose and hope of the lawsuit is that gap currently in the policy,” Breen says, “this notion that if you’re a woman, you’re not a priority.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo Under Fire
Texas Cardinal Daniel DiNardo is not listed as a defendant in the case, but the Cardinal is implicated in the alleged misconduct. DiNardo is currently the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has led efforts within the American church to address the sexual abuse crisis. “Cardinal DiNardo did nothing,” the lawsuit claims. “His office bluntly indicated that all situations of clergy abuse and harassment must be addressed on the local level.”