Ex-priest to stand trial for 1960 murder of Texas beauty queen

A former Roman Catholic priest is due to stand trial this week on charges he beat, raped and strangled to death a Texas beauty queen nearly 60 years ago after hearing her last confession.

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A former Roman Catholic priest is due to stand trial this week on charges he beat, raped and strangled to death a Texas beauty queen nearly 60 years ago after hearing her last confession.

Irene
 Irene Garza 

Lawyers for John Feit, 84, have denied his responsibility for the 1960 murder of Irene Garza, 25, in McAllen, Texas, and said in court filings that he was wrongly accused of “one of the most notorious and heavily publicized crimes in the history of the Rio Grande Valley.”

Irene
 Irene Garza

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and opening statements are expected on Thursday at a state district court in Hidalgo county in south Texas. The trial is likely to take about two weeks, county officials said on Monday.

Garza, a former Miss South Texas and second-grade school teacher, was last seen giving confession during Holy Week at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on April 16, 1960, according to the Texas Rangers cold case website.

Her body was found five days later in a nearby canal. An autopsy showed that Garza had been raped while comatose and died of suffocation. 

irene-garza-john-feit-cbs-48hours-beauty-queen-mcallen-texas-murder

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 Left- Irene Garza who was raped and murdered after giving her last confession to Feit-Right

Feit had initially been considered by authorities to be a suspect in the case but was not indicted. He had been implicated in the assault of another woman in the area a few weeks before Garza’s disappearance, but pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and served no jail time.

Shortly after Garza’s body was found, Feit was ordered by his church superiors to leave McAllen, the Dallas Morning News reported.

johnfeit
 Feit

Feit later left the priesthood and moved to Arizona, where he started a family.

Texas Rangers investigating cold cases reported in 2002 that a local priest had told them, shortly after Garza’s body was found, that he had seen scratches on the hands of Feit, who was a visiting priest at Sacred Heart Church at the time.

The local priest, Father Joseph O’Brien, also told investigators that Feit had confessed to the murder, law enforcement officials said. Feit has denied that.

Theologians seek Protestant unity through ‘Reforming Catholic Confession’

More than 500 pastors and theologians have signed a ‘Reforming Catholic Confession’ designed to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation on October 31, 2017.

Produced by a drafting committee composed almost entirely of US-based scholars, the Confession aims to highlight ‘the Reformers’s original vision for Catholic unity under canonical authority’. It says critics of the Reformation often ‘fixate’ on Protestant divisions. However, it says that ‘despite our genuine differences, there is a significant and substantial doctrinal consensus that unites us as “mere Protestants”.’

Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers, 1625/1650© Deutsches Historisches Museum

Its sub-heading is: ‘What we, Protestants of diverse churches and theological traditions, say together’.

The Confession includes sections on the Trinity, Scripture, the atoning work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church and baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

A section entitled ‘explanation’ stresses the Reformers’ original intentions and defends Protestantism from the charge of being inherently divisive. It says: ‘While we regret the divisions that have followed in its wake, we acknowledge the need for the sixteenth-century Reformation, even as we recognize the hopeful possibilities of the present twenty-first century moment.’ The Confession continues: ‘We therefore aim to celebrate the catholic impulse that lies at the heart of the earlier Reformation even as we hope and pray for ever greater displays of our substantial unity in years to come.’

The ‘explanation’ acknowledges Protestant divisions and says the Reformers ‘sometimes succumbed to the ever-present temptations of pride, prejudice, and impatience’. However, it denies divisions were the ‘inevitable consequences’ of the Reformation.

It says that rather than attempting to replace denominational credal formulations, ‘our statement aims at displaying an interdenominational unity in the essentials of the faith and agreement that the Word of God alone has final jurisdiction’. It urges further conversations and dialogue seeking to ‘achieve greater unity’.

Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, who co-chaired the Confession’s steering committee, said that a significant motivating factor of the Confession’s participants is to call the Church to spiritual renewal.

He told the Christian Post: ‘It’s a call for the Church to be the Church in a world that is very much pushing against the things of God in so many different ways, and to believe that God will sustain in the midst of the storms that are all about us.’

George said: ‘I don’t think we can be faithful Christians in the tradition of the Reformation unless we take seriously Jesus’ words and his prayer [in John 17] that his disciples would be one so that the world might believe.’

He said the Confession was ‘a call to recognize that there is a brokenness about us and within us, which we have to pray that God, the Holy Spirit, will heal and mend in our midst. But we don’t think that relaxing into our divisions and accepting the status quo as divinely ordained is the way forward.’

[written by Mark Woods]