Sunday, February 27, 2011

Priest accused

Woman claiming abuse by S.A. priest
She says rapes began at age 10. Cleric now dead.
By Abe Levy

Updated 08:30 a.m., Saturday, February 26, 2011
. Rosio Castro (right) with her mother, Patricia Castro, on the grounds of St. John Berchmans Catholic Church. Rosio Castro says she was repeatedly raped by Father Theo A. Clerx, who died seven years ago.
Photo: San Antonio Express-News Rosio Castro (right) with her mother, Patricia Castro, on the...

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A woman has sued the Archdiocese of San Antonio, accusing her former priest of raping her repeatedly when she was as young as 10.

The priest, Father Theo A. Clerx, died seven years ago. He was pastor of St. John Berchmans Catholic Church on the Southwest Side and a close family friend who groomed her and her sisters with gifts before the abuse began, said Rosio Castro, now 29.

Castro, who was an altar server at Clerx's church, said the abuse started with groping at age 9 and continued for nearly three more years with rapes at least twice a month, leading her to suicide attempts, drug addiction and jail time.

“I have so much anger and regret about my bad choices,” said Castro, whose sisters Patricia Rodriguez, Mayra Hernandez and Yvonne Castro joined the suit, also claiming abuse. It was filed in Bexar County last month.

The San Antonio Express-News typically does not identify victims of abuse, but agreed to upon Castro's request.

Ronald Mendoza, attorney for the San Antonio archdiocese, responded to the lawsuit this month by denying the allegations.

Archdiocesan spokesman Pat Rodgers declined to comment Friday, citing the pending suit and the fact that Clerx was a religious order priest.

Clerx was a member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which has a ministry training house in San Antonio. Several of its priests staff eight parishes in the archdiocese, which has a longstanding relationship with Clerx's religious order dating to 1947.

Rodgers also declined to comment on whether Clerx was among 20 priests the archdiocese mentioned in 2004 as having pedophile claims against them.

He did, however, say the archdiocese is working to notify the parishes where Clerx worked of the allegations.

Clerx died Dec. 17, 2003, at 72. He had been living at Padua Place, a retirement home for priests.

The heads of religious orders keep tabs on their priests when assigned to work in the archdiocese. However, the archbishop alone grants and revokes permission for their ministry. If they work in parishes as pastors, they also report to regional deans and archdiocesan committees.

Father Anselme Malonda, head of the order's U.S. province, said in an e-mail that he was aware of the suit and allegations, which were turned over to his attorneys. He added that “I personally feel terrible and very saddened by what was done to this young woman.”

Castro reported her claim to the archdiocese last year, she said, which led to Malonda visiting her and expressing tearful sympathy.

Central to the abuse claim is how the priest manipulated his revered status to earn the trust of an unsuspecting mother and private access to her children, said Robert Hilliard, Castro's Corpus Christi-based attorney.

“The priest used the power of the church — and its flawed structure — to encourage them not to question,” he said. “This is about the culture that allows pedophiles to prey on the poor. He was more afraid of the mother than the church.”

Castro's mother, Patricia Castro, was a custodian at St. John Berchmans, which today has 2,000 families and was founded in 1910 by Belgian immigrants.

Clerx was there from 1988 to 1992, according to Catholic directories. His predecessor had a strong bond with the family members and asked Clerx to take care of them, Castro said.

The mother said she opened doors to the parish school at 6 a.m. and concluded her workday at 6 p.m. She also cleaned the parish after weddings and special events.

Her daughters were altar servers for the 8 a.m. Spanish-language Mass on Sundays. The family members regularly attended fall festivals, flea markets, Posadas and Lenten events, they said.

Castro's father worked for a railroad company and often was out of town and otherwise absent in their lives, the family members said.

They grew up poor. While they helped store and pass out food-bank items for the parish, they also received items from the food bank.

At first, their relationship with the priest was normal.

He visited their home, giving out colored markers and candy to Castro, she said, and wowed her with $20 in cash on her birthdays. He eventually paid their utility bills, mortgage and tuition. He became the godfather of Castro's baby brother.

He let the children have first dibs on food-bank items, including name-brand breakfast cereals and pastries they otherwise couldn't afford, she said.

“It was like we were in heaven. We could pick and choose whatever (food) we wanted,” she said. “At the time, we could only afford corn flakes.”

He also let them choose which roles to play in Posadas and other religious dramas.

The mother soon gave him a key to their home. The priest was so close to the family, a false rumor surfaced that he and the mother were romantically linked, the mother said.

At age 9, the abuse began, Castro said, with suggestive hugging and her catching him peeking in as she and her sisters undressed. She said Clerx followed her into the school bathroom to molest her.

He timed visits to the house when the daughters were there and their mother was at work or out of town, she said.

Castro said that when Clerx was alone with her at the home, he would guide her into her mother's bedroom to rape her beginning at age 10. Other times, he would urge her to take naps during the day as a precursor to more abuse, she said.

“I couldn't tell him anything,” she said, sobbing and recalling he often smelled of alcohol and chewing tobacco. “He was helping my mom. ... We all hated him, and my mom just thought it was because he was old.”

At age 11, Castro said she began to run away from home, living at friends' houses for up to a month at a time and later developing a heroin addiction.

An overdose led to a three-week coma, and she lost a pregnancy at 16 from the drug use, she said.

She said she attempted suicide three times and lived in rat-infested drug houses because “nobody could touch me” there.

“I thought my daughter would be found dead,” her mother said. “I feel destroyed on the inside, and think every day that it is my fault. I never had a clue.”

Castro said she filed suit, despite knowing the priest is dead, to come to terms with the abuse now that she's a parent.

A month and a half ago, she visited his grave in a San Antonio cemetery. For an hour and a half, she said her mind raced back to the last time she visited him at Padua Place.

He had no remorse or hint of owning up to it, she said.

As she looked at the gravestone, she said she prayed for God to help her endure the pain — and forgive him.

“I told the Lord to be his judge,” she said, “not me.”

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