Oscars Winning Movies

Dallas shined spotlight on pedophile priests before events in Oscar

Michael Keaton, left, as WalterUpdated at 8:35 a.m.: Revised to credit a third author for the “Runaway Priests” series.


Before a 2002 Boston Globe investigation rocked the Catholic Church and inspired an Oscar-winning movie, Dallas reporter Brooks Egerton was unveiling the church’s systemic cover-up of pedophile priests.

Egerton was an editor at The Dallas Morning News in the early 1990s when Rudolph “Rudy” Kos was accused of molesting boys at several Dallas-area churches. The newspaper was covering the priest’s civil trial, but Egerton pushed for reporting that went beyond the courtroom.

He was aware of sexual abuse scandals involving priests across the country — most notably in Louisiana, where priest Gilbert Gauthe admitted he abused dozens of children — and saw a story much larger than one bad priest.

“The details of the South Louisiana stuff were just shocking, and to think that it could have happened anywhere, much less in multiple places, was kind of shocking, ” Egerton said Monday.

Four years after the first suit was filed against Kos, Egerton — who by then was working as a reporter again — flew to San Diego to track down the suspended priest. The church was not defending Kos, who was attempting to keep a low profile as a paralegal in his new home.

Egerton pieced together details of Kos’ new life but returned to Dallas without an interview. Kos later changed his mind about keeping silent and decided to talk to Egerton. In a phone interview, Kos told Egerton that he had conquered his attraction to teenage boys through therapy.

Kos has been defrocked and is now serving a life prison sentence.

Egerton and other News reporters, including Ed Housewright and Michael Saul, uncovered more pedophile priests through court documents filed in the civil case against Kos, which ensnared the Dallas Catholic Diocese hierarchy. Jurors awarded a record $119.6 million settlement to 11 plaintiffs after unanimously concluding the diocese had been negligent.

In Spotlight, which was named the Best Picture of the Year during Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, reporters at the Globe trace the number of bad priests with the help of Catholic Church directories. The documents labeled the absences of accused priests as “sick leave” and other innocent-sounding codes.

Before the Globe published its investigation, Egerton also noticed a pattern in the directories in North Texas. The documents were available at the University of Dallas — a Catholic institution — where Egerton periodically looked up priests he was investigating. One day, he couldn’t find the directories. He said the librarian told him they had been destroyed.

“They had figured out that I was using them, ” he said.

In the 1990s, Egerton’s reporting revealed that a leader of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and other clerics had allowed a child-molesting priest to work for at least 20 years in Texas and other states. Egerton also wrote about how the Fort Worth bishop had hired two priests who were suspended in other dioceses and how he had retained them even after those priests were convicted.

The News committed more resources to its reporting on pedophile priests after the Globe investigation rattled the Catholic Church in 2002. That year, all eyes turned to Dallas, where Catholic hierarchy convened to debate a draft policy on sexual abuse.

A three-month review by Egerton and colleagues Reese Dunklin and Darlean Spangenberger showed that two-thirds of the top U.S. Catholic leaders had allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to keep working.

“It was five solid pages of newsprint and big screaming headline on the front page, ” Egerton said. “It was waiting for these guys when they arrived at D/FW Airport. We got all kinds of national attention.”

The News’ reporting expanded into an international investigation in the mid-2000s led by Egerton, Dunklin and reporter Brendan Case called “Runaway Priests: Hiding in Plain Sight.”

In 2008, The News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram won an appeal after a Tarrant County priest fought a court order to unseal pages from his personnel file related to allegations of sexual misconduct. Seven women sued the priest and the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese the following year, and he was permanently suspended from the Dominican Order in 2012.

Egerton, who left The News in December, praised the Globe’s investigative work and said he was pleased Spotlight acknowledged that the newspaper could have had the story sooner.

He said he appreciated how the film showed “the sausage-making process of news” and how people find ways not to do things.

“People need to be reminded that there are stories out there everywhere we look and don’t want to look just hiding and waiting for somebody to come along and do them, ” Egerton said.

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