AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local priest at the center of a sexual abuse lawsuit that was settled in court last year is still being supported by the Diocese of Austin.
Father Isidore Ndagizimana, who was known as “Father Izzy,” was serving at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in northwest Austin when six women filed a joint lawsuit in November 2018, saying he touched them inappropriately.
According to the women’s lead attorney, Sean Breen, the Austin diocese put Father Izzy through counseling, and then reassigned him to a church in Brenham. Breen said members there were never told about the accusations.
KXAN discovered the church has now moved him to a priest retirement facility in Central Texas.
The news of Father Izzy’s location comes as a surprise to Carolin Hoff, who attends St. Thomas More. She and her husband thought when Bishop Joe Vasquez addressed their congregation in the fall of 2018 to tell them their priest had been removed for alleged inappropriate behavior with women, that meant he was no longer a priest.
“When you remove someone from a job, you no longer have that job,” Hoff said.
But, months later, Hoff heard Father Izzy was, in fact, still a priest. She said her husband wrote two letters to Bishop Vasquez asking about the situation, and questioned church leaders.
“No one could give us an answer until I went to confession,” Hoff said.
In the confessional, Hoff said she fired off a list of questions to the new parish priest.
“I said, ‘Is he still with the church?’ [The priest said] ‘Yes, he’s at the diocese.’ ‘Is the church still supporting Father Isidore?’ ‘Yes,'” Hoff said, recounting the conversation.
The case against Father Izzy
Father Izzy has not been charged or convicted of a crime. The six women who filed the lawsuit anonymously said the abuse happened in the last six years. They never called police to report what happened.
One of the women told KXAN in an interview last year, church leaders and the diocese assured them they were taking care of it and when it was not handled to their satisfaction, they decided to sue.
The case was settled in the fall of last year for an undisclosed amount. Some parishioners have asked if money they give to the church is going to legal fees. The diocese said settlements and legal fees are covered by insurance funds.
Father Izzy’s status
The Diocese of Austin tells KXAN Father Izzy still holds the priest title, but has been stripped of all priest duties. He cannot serve in any public ministry, and is not allowed to present himself as a priest or dress like one.
The diocese said it’s still supporting him financially because under church law it’s required to. When we asked where Father Izzy is living and what he’s doing, it said that information is confidential.
A tip and a driver’s license search led us to a priest retirement facility in Central Texas. No one answered the phone number listed online. While looking for someone on the property to talk to, KXAN Investigator Erin Cargile spotted Father Izzy. The diocese still refused to confirm his location.
Hoff said it should not be this difficult to get information about an accused priest.
“To have to find out answers by going to confessional is not the way to do it. That’s not very transparent,” Hoff said. “I trust the church, I love the church, but we need answers of what they’re doing with priests that should no longer be priests.”
Photojournalist Ben Friberg, Graphic Artist Rachel Garza, Director of Investigations & Innovation Josh Hinkle, Photojournalist Chris Nelson and Digital Executive Producer Kate Winkle contributed to this report.