BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A Catholic leader in South Texas has expressed sorrow to relatives of a slain teacher in a 1960 killing blamed on an ex-priest who this month went to prison for the crime.
Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville on Dec. 20 released a statement, on behalf of the Church, with prayers that the family of 25-year-old Irene Garza finds peace.
“As a Catholic, as bishop of this local church, and as a human being I am horrified by this. The suffering caused to so many by this crime is incalculable. In a real way the whole Río Grande Valley feels again, after 57 years, the desire to accompany the sorrow of Irene Garza’s family and friends,” Flores wrote.
“I certainly have this desire, and as bishop I carry the whole Church with me in expressing it. On behalf of the Church, for the sinful actions of members of the Church, I express this sorrow to the family, and to those whose faith has been injured by these events,” the bishop said.
Jurors on Dec. 7 convicted 85-year-old John Bernard Feit of murder in the death of Garza, who belonged to his parish. Feit received 57 years behind bars — the same number of years since Garza was raped and killed.
“I have no reason to doubt the integrity of the verdict, nor the just motives of those arguing the case,” Flores said. “I hope and pray that any persons who may have contributed to the crime or acted improperly or unworthily in its aftermath, whether in the Church or not, take responsibility for the great evil done. They should seek repentance before God, before they are called to the Final Judgment.”
Flores says the Diocese of Brownsville didn’t exist then and he has no special insight into what was done or not done by civil and church authorities after the crime.
“Nevertheless, I am deeply grieved at the thought that political and religious struggles, competing interests vying for advantage, were at play as decisions were being made on how to proceed with the case,” the bishop said.
“Whatever factors contributed to the 57-year delay in reaching a verdict in this case, Irene Garza, her family, and the whole Río Grande Valley deserved better than that.”
Crux staff contributed to this report.