A Dallas priest is nowhere to be found amid allegations of sexual abuse that were found to be credible, according to the Diocese of Dallas.
Church officials believe the Rev. Edmundo Paredes may have fled to his native country of the Philippines.
Bishop Edward Burns informed the parishioners of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in a Saturday afternoon mass about the accusations made against their now-former pastor.
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According to the diocese, allegations of sexual abuse by Paredes came from three adult men. The adults said the incidents occurred more than a decade ago when they were in their mid-teens. Paredes had been a pastor at the church for 27 years. The Diocese of Dallas said they reported the allegations to local authorities after learning of them in February.
When the men came forward in February the diocese said Paredes was being investigated and had already been suspended for unrelated accusations of theft.
The Diocese of Dallas was informed of a theft that occurred at the parish while Paredes was pastor. According to a statement, the diocese said the priest admitted to financial misconduct. Church officials estimate he stole between $60,000 and $80,000 in cash.
"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," Burns said to the church during his message Saturday. "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."
Burns told parishioners the church is in the process of hiring private investigators to locate Paredes.
However, Burns said that they had been contacted by authorities in the Philippines who stated that Paredes was not found there either.
Paredes helped to oversee the parish school next to the church.
Even though no accusations came from students, the bishop said there is "heightened concern."
"When there is a wolf in sheep's clothing that is startling enough. But when there is a wolf in shepherd's clothing that is horrendous," Burns said.
The bishop said he had a message to anyone who may be questioning or even faltering in their faith given the accusations against a priest.
"Do not let any sinful man separate you from our Lord Jesus Christ," he said.
And to the man accused of causing harm, Burns said "step forward."
The Diocese of Dallas asked anyone who has suffered abuse by church personnel to report it to law enforcement and the Diocese's Victims Assistance Coordinator at 214-379-2819.