WASHINGTON (CNS) — In early December, the community in McAllen, Texas, felt the reopening of an almost 60-year-old wound that never healed and one that involved the local Catholic community, prompting a written response from the local bishop on Dec. 20 expressing “sorrow.”
After listening to evidence, a Texas jury delivered a guilty verdict on Dec. 7 in the case of a man convicted of murdering in 1960 a young woman while he was a priest and she went to him seeking the sacrament of reconciliation during Holy Week. A former priest, John Bernard Feit, 85, was found guilty of the first-degree murder of 25-year-old Irene Garza. He is said to have beaten, raped and strangled the popular teacher and beauty queen from South Texas, who was last seen seeking confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the border town of McAllen.
Feit was a priest for the religious order Oblates of Mary Immaculate and left the priesthood in 1972. He married and had children after a series of transfers following the murder. He was sentenced to life in prison on Dec. 8.
During the trial, some said local church members and law enforcement officials who were Catholic acted together to prevent Feit’s arrest, fearing the repercussions and damage to the church. That’s why for 57 years, many believe, the case went nowhere. Church authorities transferred Feit to two different monasteries within the U.S. following the killing. A former Trappist monk at one of those monasteries testified that Feit told him about the murder and his role in it, but he did not notify authorities for decades.
On Dec. 20, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, penned a letter expressing sorrow to the family and friends of the popular teacher, and said the diocese did not exist then so he had “no special insight into what was done or not done by civil and church authorities in the aftermath of the crime.” However, he said “whatever factors contributed to the 57-year delay in reaching a verdict in this case, Irene Garza, her family and the whole Rio Grande Valley deserved better than that.”
Though charges against Feit were not pursued while he was a priest, many had long suspected he was responsible for the killing believed to have taken place in the rectory of the church. It took decades and a new Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorney to bring charges against him.
The San Antonio Express-News reported on Dec. 8 that the young woman’s nephew, Nick Cavazos, read a victim impact statement during the sentencing phase and “said his grandfather never again set foot in church” after his daughter’s killing.
“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,” said Bishop Flores in his statement.
He said he was praying “so that 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.”
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103