Former priest denies link to old murder Open case: Man pled guilty in earlier assault on Edinburg woman, later allowed child-molesting priest to continue working. - Brownsville Herald: Community

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Former priest denies link to old murder Open case: Man pled guilty in earlier assault on Edinburg woman, later allowed child-molesting priest to continue working.

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Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 12:00 am

By Emma Perez-Trevio

The Brownsville Herald

McALLEN A former McAllen priest with a history of criminal activity and

nervous breakdowns said he had nothing to do with the murder of a beauty queen

he was linked to and was fooled by a child-molesting priest he cleared to

continue serving at parishes around the country.

John B. Feit, who has shied away from just about all inquiries into his

troubled past, told The Brownsville Herald on Friday that he doesnt know who

raped and suffocated to death Irene Garza in 1960 then dumped her body in the

Second Street canal.

I didnt do it, said the 69-year-old Feit in an interview from his Phoenix

home. I had nothing to do with her death. I can honestly say that.

But Feits association with Garzas killing keeps resurfacing. He heard her

confession on the night of Saturday April 16, 1960, three days before her body

was found floating in the water. Police believe he was the last person to see

her alive. Garzas car was still in the parking lot of the Sacred Heart

Catholic Church on 15th Street in McAllen where Feit heard her confession.

What made Feit, now a grandfather, a prime suspect for police was his assault

of a 20-year-old teacher in Edinburgs Sacred Heart church a month prior to

Garzas death.

Garzas unsolved murder is still considered an open case by McAllen police

despite being more than 40 years old and stale. However, interest in Feit and

some criminal acts hes been linked to has been rekindled because of the

national spotlight on priests and their behavior.

Many Roman Catholic priests throughout the country have confessed to the abuse

of women and children and many who have been abused have come forward.

Some of Feits deeds became public after a City of McAllen-produced TV show

called Open Files aired a show about the case last year.

McAllen Police department investigators have since refused to provide any

information on the case after initially saying they would. They did provide a

tape of the segment, however.

The Herald filed a request for information under the Texas Public Information

Act, but the police department has maintained it is an ongoing case. It has

been forwarded to the Texas Attorney General for an opinion.

Still, what records show is that Feit was charged with assaulting a young

woman in an Edinburg church, questioned by police about Garzas murder

(including taking lie detector tests that were inconclusive), moved to

Chicago, endured nervous breakdowns then was sent to New Mexico where he

supervised a congregation that included Priest James Porter, who has been

accused of molesting at least 100 boys.

Feit, who left the priesthood 30 years ago, did not apologize for what he had

been convicted of or for his connection to Porter, a sexual predator.

In 1960, Feit was a 28-year-old priest assigned to the Rio Grande Valley

probably the first assignment of the then-recently-ordained priest in San

Antonio, officials of his former order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary

Immaculate, said Thursday.

Later that year, Garza was killed and Feit was swept up in a decade-long

spiral of incidents, beginning with the Garza murder that was a sensation in

McAllen.

I could understand why it (the murder) made the waves that it did, Feit

said. It was a trying time for a lot of people. It was red hot back then.

Irma Garza, co-producer of the city television program who was able to access

the case files, said the lie detector tests administered to Feit had been

inconclusive.

They brought the people that invented the polygraph test, said Garza, no

relation to the victim. Witnesses said that they were in line for confession

and they waited and waited and waited and he wasnt there.

After being grilled about the Garza killing, Feit pled no contest to a reduced

charge of aggravated assault of Maria America Guerra, the 20-year-old teacher

he attacked while she knelt down to pray in the Edinburg church.

I was out of the loop, Feit said. I didnt know that I would be convicted

and found guilty on a plea of no contest. I didnt know what that meant.

Feit maintains that he was in the midst of a nervous breakdown during this

time and insisted he did not assault Guerra.

Soon after getting out of court and paying a $500 fine, he was sent to the

Loyola University in Chicago to pursue studies. During his stay there, Feit

says he suffered another nervous breakdown when President John F. Kennedy was

assassinated in November of 1963.

Next, Feits order sent him to the Holy Servants of the Paraclete, the Jemez

Springs, New Mexico treatment center for troubled priests. Within five years

he became the Superior, or administrator of the center.

As supervisor of the Holy Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation,

that was apparently created to treat troubled priests, Feit had a part in

clearing Porter for assignments to parishes where he continued his attacks.

I tell you, the man had me fooled, Feit said. He was deceptively charming.

Feit said he relied on a doctors clearance of Porter, whose mental health was

examined. Porter went on to serve at parishes around the country where hes

been accused of continual abuses.

The present leader of the Paracletes, who oversees the order and the New

Mexico center from his base office in Missouri, was stunned to hear of Feits

criminal past when told by The Herald.

This is obviously something that is shocking, said Paraclete Servant General

Fr. Peter Lechner. What kind of effect did his administration have when he

had pled no contest to assault? I am deeply concerned of what happened back

then.

Lechner has been at his post for over a decade and did not serve in his

capacity when Feit was there. However, Lechner says hes concerned about the

allegations of misconduct.

Certainly, this is something that is leading me to ask questions to myself,

he said. I am so sorry.

Others in McAllen also feel the loss. Schoolmates and others called Irene

Garza very religious and a great friend.

The family took it very, very hard, said Minerva Barrera, who went to high

school with Garza. Her mother was just devastated. They had pictures of her

all over the house.

Garzas parents are now dead, but they had a prayer, the victims sister told

the TV program.

It was my parents wish, as well as mine, that the person who did this ask

for forgiveness because we dont want him to be damned for eternity, said

Josie Garza. We want him to go to heaven.

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