Catholic Ex-priest Gets Life In Prison For 1960
A National Catholic Reporter Article dated Dec 11, 2017 – From The Associated Press, Religion News Service
At Edinburg, Texas, USA, a jury on Friday sentenced an 85-year-old former priest to life in prison for the 1960 killing of a schoolteacher and former beauty queen who was a member of the parish he served. The same jurors found John Bernard Feit guilty of murder on Thursday night. Prosecutors asked jurors Friday for a 57-year prison term – one year for each year he had walked free since killing Irene Garza after she went to him for confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. The 25-year-old Irene Garza disappeared on April 16th 1960. Her bludgeoned body was found days later. An autopsy revealed she had been raped while unconscious, and beaten and suffocated.
The Prosecutor had asked the jury not to view the now elderly and weak Feit as he is today, but to try to imagine him as a 28-year-old man capable of subduing the woman. The jury deliberated just over four hours on Friday before deciding on the maximum sentence. Afterward, the Prosecutor said at a news conference that he wished that he could take credit for the conviction and sentence, “but it was God-driven”.
Feit, then a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, came under suspicion in the investigation early on. He told police that he heard Garza’s confession in the church rectory rather than in the confessional, but denied he had killed her. Among the evidence that pointed to Feit as a suspect over the years was that two priests told authorities that Feit had confessed to them. One of them said he saw scratches on Feit soon after Garza’s disappearance. His portable photographic slide viewer was found near Garza’s body.
Feit had also been accused of attacking another young woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza’s death. He pleaded no contest and was fined $500.
Prosecutors presented evidence earlier in the week that church and elected officials suspected Feit, but didn’t want to prosecute him. They feared it could harm the reputations of the Church and Hidalgo County elected officials, most of whom were Catholic. This was partly due to the fact that Senator. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was running for president that year.
Feit was sent to a treatment center for troubled priests in New Mexico, later becoming a supervisor with responsibility in the clearing of priests for parish assignments. Among the men Feit helped keep in ministry was the child molester, James Porter, who assaulted more than 100 victims before he was defrocked and sent to prison. Feit left the priesthood in 1972, married and went on to work at the Catholic charity St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, training and recruiting volunteers and helping oversee the charity’s network of food kitchens. Garza’s family members and friends had long pushed authorities to reopen the case, and it became an issue in the 2014 district attorney’s race. Ricardo Rodriguez had promised that if elected, he would re-examine the case.
Comment by Brian Mark Hennessy of the Comboni Survivor Group
It is curious that Feit was convicted because two Catholic Priests, who were witnesses in the case, revealed that Feit had confessed his crime of murder to them in the Confessional. Revealing the secrets of confession, however, are contrary to Catholic Church Canon Law and the Motu Proprio of Pope John-Paul II, “Sacramentorum Sanctitatus Tutela”. The Catholic Priest, Feit, went free for 57 years until he was found guilty of a ruthless crime – because for all that time he was protected by the ‘seal of confession’. Presumably, in normal circumstances, the priests who heard Feit’s confession and later revealed the truth of the murder committed by Feit, could now be defrocked and excommunicated from the Catrholic Church by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith*.
This very day, Dom Richard Yeo, Abbot President of the British Benedictine Congregation, stated clearly during a Hearing at the United Kingdom Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, that confessions of ‘delicta graviora’, heinous crimes of child sexual abuse, cannot be revealed on pain of excommunication. The consequence of that is that Paedophile clerics of the Roman Catholic Church can continue to roam free – ‘all sins forgiven’ – within parishes and Religious Orders, because they are protected by Canon Law and the same Motu Proprio that allowed Feit to escape conviction for the greater part of his life. It is somewhat incredible that Feit, himself, whilst still a priest within the Catholic structure, helped keep in ministry a child molester, James Porter, who assaulted more than 100 victims before he was defrocked and sent to prison.
The Catholic Church must re-examine the subject of Confession. It cannot be considered to be ‘moral’ that these most serious of crimes against third parties can go unpunished and yet more victims are placed in danger of harm. There is a ‘moral’ way out and it is not complicated. Simply, absolution for confessions of ‘delicta graviora’ – redefined as ‘a serious injury against another person that causes physical or psychological harm (or both)’ – does not become effective until ‘after’ the crime has been admitted to the institutional authorities (religious, scholastic, work-place etc) within which the crime was committed – and – the civil authorities who administer the justice system within the jurisdiction of the crime.
*( I note here that I am not aware of the circumstances of the two priests who revealed the crime of murder confessed to them and nor any Canonical consequences of their revelations).