Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who is in charge of the U.S. Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse, has been accused of mishandling an allegation and protecting his deputy, the Associated Press reports. Laura Pontikes, a 55-year-old Texas woman, said she turned to DiNardo to report that his deputy, Monsignor Frank Rossi, had taken advantage of her sexually after she sought spiritual guidance. DiNardo, head of the Galveston-Houston archdiocese and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is said to have assured Pontikes that Rossi would never “pastor or counsel women again.” But Pontikes later found out her alleged abuser had been reinstated as a pastor at a parish just two hours away, she told the AP. When Pontikes’ husband confronted DiNardo, he reportedly said the archdiocese would respond aggressively to any legal action they might pursue. Pontikes’ claims against Rossi are now the subject of a criminal probe, as Texas law states a clergy member can be charged with sexual assault of an adult if the member “exploited an emotional dependency” for a physical relationship, the AP reports.
The archdiocese told the AP an “inappropriate physical relationship” had occurred between Pontikes and Rossi, but said the relationship was consensual and no intercourse was involved. It also said Rossi was placed on immediate leave after Pontikes reported him, and an “out-of-state ‘renewal’ program” later recommended Rossi be placed back in active ministry. DiNardo is set to lead a Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting next week to address the church’s sex-abuse epidemic.