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Corruption of Cecilia

| Friday, August 31, 2018

She is a much-venerated saint, with a name that sounds like chimes gently stirred by the breeze: Cecilia. She is honored for maintaining her virginity and embracing spiritual rather than physical love, even after her marriage to her beloved Valerian in the early days of Christianity. The sacred music Cecilia heard as she prayed and undertook penance enshrined her as the patroness of musicians. Virgins and virtuosos alike looked to her for inspiration. After her martyrdom, Cecilia rested relatively forgotten and undisturbed for a millennium, but the church eventually had need of her again.

The years following the Protestant reformation were difficult for the church, and 1598 saw a series of attacks and conflicts that threatened the power of Rome. Early in the year Henry IV of France granted Huguenots equal rights with Catholics. The Catholic King Sigismund of Sweden and Poland was defeated by the Protestant forces of his uncle, Charles; Sigismund was soon deposed. Even developments in science seemed to challenge innocent faith as Tycho Brahe charted the heavens in his newly published star catalog.

Having suffered in the political and scientific realms, the Vatican was determined to fire up spiritual zeal with dramatic ‘discoveries’ of its own. Church officials located and exhumed Cecilia’s body in 1599. Those present were amazed to find her to be “incorrupt,” never having been decomposed. Officials also reported a “delightful flower-like odor,” which wafted from the coffin. Cecilia was declared the first of all incorrupt saints. Church hierarchy taught the inevitable lesson that only the one, true Church — itself incorruptible — could be the home for such a miraculous event.

Unfortunately the innocent spirituality of Cecilia has been debased in some of her namesake parishes. St. Cecilia parish in Oak Cliff, Texas, is housed in a Romanesque building, once ravaged by fire and rebuilt through the hard work of its devoted members. Cecilia herself might have been proud of the musical heritage of this part of south Dallas, as blues musicians — including the Vaughan brothers, Stevie Ray and Jimmy — grew up within the sound of its bells.

The pastor who oversaw the rebuilding of the church, Edmundo Paredes, is under investigation for allegedly molesting three teenage boys in the parish more than a decade ago. Paredes was already under scrutiny by the Diocese of Dallas for stealing more than $60,000 last year. He admitted to the theft, was suspended from the ministry and removed from St. Cecilia in June 2017. As the sexual assault allegations have been unearthed, the theft of the funds may be germane: Paredes has recently disappeared and may have left for his native Philippines. Paredes had been the pastor of St. Cecilia for 27 years.

Ordained in 1977, James Brzyski served as associate pastor at Philadelphia’s St. Cecilia church. His time at St. Cecilia was especially destructive as he molested a number of boys, threatening them if they ever spoke of his assaults. These boys tried to live normal lives, but they were tormented by the encounter with the pure evil of a predator operating under cover of religious authority, and a number took their lives years later. Those that struggled on dealt with severe depression and addiction issues; Brzyski had broken many lives to feed his own desires.

The Philadelphia archdiocese did not notify law enforcement or parishioners about his sexual misconduct. Brzyski walked away from church-ordered rehabilitation, worked as a high school teacher in New Jersey and even ran a child’s birthday party business in Philadelphia for seven years. During this time Brzyski brazenly telephoned one of his St. Cecilia victims, apparently in response to a newspaper announcement about the birth of the now-married man’s first child, a boy.

“Hey. How are you doing?” Brzyski asked.

His victim recognized the voice. “What do you want?”

Explaining that he had heard about the baby, Brzyski chillingly remarked, “I’d love to meet him sometime.” Brzyski seemed to relish his role as an unrepentant monster.

A 2005 grand jury identified him as one of 63 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children in the Philadelphia archdiocese. Investigators estimated he may have assaulted more than 100 children. Brzyski was defrocked by the church and undertook a tortuous effort to stay ahead of the law, with stops in West Hollywood, California, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. He was arrested for drunken driving in New Mexico, and later moved to Dallas. Neighbors drove him from one apartment complex when they learned of his predatory past, then when a reporter from Philadelphia who tracked him to Texas confronted him at Dallas’ Serendipity apartments in September of 2017, Brzyski bolted and was found dead of an apparent heart attack a few weeks later in a Fort Worth motel. No one claimed the body.

The recent grand jury report out of Pennsylvania documents more than a thousand incidents of sexual assault by hundreds of priests in that state alone, protected by a hierarchy determined to treat each incident as an aberration that should be handled quietly and privately. While this corruption is a stain on the reputation of the Church, it threatens to become the reputation of the church unless positive, definite steps are taken against these crimes, including support for eliminating all statutes of limitations for the sexual assault of children. Pious prattling about “respecting life” is meaningless unless and until we all work to acknowledge and address this crippling corruption.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Raymond Ramirez

Ray Ramirez is an attorney practicing, yet never perfecting, law in Texas while waiting patiently for a MacArthur Genius Grant. You may contact him at [email protected]

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