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Church Center Faulted in Abuse Suits

Susan Hogan/Albach
The Dallas Morning News

Two Men Allowed to Work at Day Care Despite Troubled Pasts

Two men in Texas prisons for molesting children are at the center of lawsuits brought against the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and St. Pius X Catholic Church’s day-care program.

Julio A. Marcos pleaded guilty last year to molesting 11 girls while he worked at the East Dallas day-care center.

Patrick Willhoite pleaded guilty to molesting a girl after he left the center. He signed an affidavit in April saying that he had molested girls at the center. But in a deposition given May 17 in state prison in Huntsville, he waffled on whether the abuse occurred.

Both men worked at the center in the 1990s.

Mr. Willhoite was hired to supervise children, though he had been convicted twice of felony theft. Shortly after he was hired, Mr. Willhoite wrote a letter to administrators saying that he had a history of psychiatric problems, including manic-depression and suicide attempts.

Dallas Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante said the day care is operated by the church, not the diocese.

Michael Pezzulli, an attorney who represents five of Mr. Marcos’ victims, said the center “allowed a drug user and a child molester to have one-on-one access to children.”

Mr. Willhoite falsely said he had a master’s degree in sociology and a degree in youth ministry from a college in “St. Lewis” on his job application in 1991, court records show. He said he was a self-employed child safety specialist, mostly known by the nickname “Dr. Isaac.”

The center’s criminal background check of Mr. Willhoite didn’t reveal his felony convictions because his Social Security number and date of birth which he accurately provided were incorrectly submitted by the center, documents show.

In 1997, two members of St. Pius complained in a meeting with the parish’s two priests and the day care’s director, Jeanie Easler, that Mr. Willhoite had touched a girl inappropriately while she was on his lap.

The members followed up their complaint with a five-page letter to the Rev. Ramon Alvarez, who was pastor at the church then, and told him a check of Mr. Willhoite’s background by their attorney had found a criminal record.

It is unclear what action, if any, the church took in response to the allegations. Neither Father Alvarez nor Monsignor Larry Pichard, St. Pius’ current pastor, could be reached for comment.Shortly after he was hired, Mr. Willhoite wrote a letter to Lydia Montgomery, who was the center’s director then, outlining his psychiatric history. He said he was once placed in the “legal system” and had been in psychiatric care at a hospital.

Ms. Montgomery, who no longer works at the center, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Marcos attempted suicide in March 1992 by overdosing on drugs, which he said included cocaine and marijuana.

A few days later, he returned to working with the children even though test results showing drugs were no longer in his system weren’t known for at least 10 days, according to depositions.

Ms. Easler, assistant director of the day care at the time, testified that she didn’t think it was necessary to report the suicide attempt to Child Protective Services. She said her main concern was Mr. Marcos’ well-being.

“This was something I had never encountered before,” Ms. Easler said in a deposition in March.

She has declined to comment.

Mr. Marcos continued to work at the center until he was arrested in January 2001 after several children complained to a day-care teacher.

The lawsuits, which are not expected to go to trial until next year, allege that Mr. Marcos was able to molest girls, in part, because the diocese didn’t follow its safe environment policy. The policy includes criminal background checks on employees and on volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults.

“The policy is nothing more than a publicity stunt, because they don’t follow through to ensure it’s truly a safe environment,” Mr. Pezzulli said. “That’s the tragedy of it.”

Bishop Galante said the day care followed the policy by acting swiftly after allegations were made against Mr. Marcos.

After Mr. Marcos was arrested, St. Pius installed eight surveillance cameras with plans to add 10 more, documents show.

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