Secondary school administration at Catholic University
Ordination as Bishop of Amarillo
Pantex and nuclear weapons
Moral objection to nuclear weapons
Public statement against Pantex and public reaction
Bishops' reactions to the statement
Issuing the Peace Pastoral
Ministering to gay and lesbian Catholics
New Way ministry
The hospice movement and AIDS
The tragedy of Sister Tadea Benz
How the Franciscan Sisters came to Amarillo
Sister Tadea's background
The rape and murder of Sister Tadea
The arrest and conviction of Johnny Frank Garret
Campaign to commute Garret's death sentence
Evidence proving Garret innocent
Repercussions of Garret's execution
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: By the way, in case we're not done, I've arranged for-- I take my lunch over at St. Francis Convent right next door, a light
lunch, and it's become kind of a semi-retirement home for elderly nuns.
Of course they were all involved in this Johnny Frank Garrett thing because Sister Tadea was killed here and raped and so on. Anyway, the evidence is
overwhelming. I just reread the thing I wrote in [inaudible] and there's mistakes in that, I mean things that I didn't know at the time.
RAYMOND: Right. Well at the time you were, I think that everybody was-- a lot of people were convinced he was guilty but the issue was
the abuse and the--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Yeah, but you know why? Well we'll get into it. What else? As you know, most of the religious leaders of Texas, I
don't know about the Baptists, but the Catholics bishops and the Methodists, Episcopalians and so on, we had repeatedly issued statements asking for the removal of the death penalty, the
abolition of the death penalty. What is that, a piece of candy?
RAYMOND: It's pretty, isn't it? I'll put that close to you. You have a nice, soft voice.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Okay, so give me a little idea what you
RAYMOND: That's good. Some of the things we for sure want to talk about are-- the focus of this interview has, sort of, we need to
talk about Johnny Frank Garrett, but if you are not too tired and if you don't mind I'd love to hear about Pantex and then the other thing, I've heard you speak eloquently and write eloquently
about stewardship of the land--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Yes. I grew up on a cotton farm.
RAYMOND: About praying, not praying for rain.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Patience. Pray for patience. I've got some staunch inhibitions about all of that. People repeatedly up here say, "You've got to
pray for rain, pray for rain. " And I say, "Are you asking me to ask God to change his mind about the way he created the world?" It's a semiarid region, and we try to squeeze more out of it.
We've got this big thing about--this was known as the Great American Desert when the first explorers came and then they drilled and found water.
Then they discovered the Ogallala Aquifer, which reaches from here to South Dakota. It was changed from the Great American Desert to the Breadbasket of
America. Now it's in danger of going back because of Pantex's involvement and the river polluting the Ogallala and the ball game is over. And the table's also dropping because we're over
irrigating and that kind of stuff. We're squeezing water, but that's a whole new story. So what else?
RAYMOND: Well, some of these other things that happened during your term as bishop have really changed. I think you were, the
Vietnamese started arriving in Southeast Texas--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: 1975.
RAYMOND: In 1975, and you were installed in 1980 so the church that's very close to here, Our Lady of Vietnam. I don't know if you
have any thoughts about that.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Oh, sure. I haven't been accused of having an unpublished thought. But I was trained in journalism and I archive things
and go back to it. I had wrote that book my brother said-- I have an older brother who's ninety-one. He said, "You sure have a good memory. "
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: I said, "Well, I was trained to archive material, this kind of stuff." We called it the morgue. And I said, I knew some of that and
what I didn't remember, I just made up. Not facts, but in between. Anyway, so.
RAYMOND: So are we ready to formally start?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Whenever you're ready.
RAYMOND: Okay. I'm just going to say some things.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Is this okay if I'm comfortable like this?
RAYMOND: Yes, you are in charge of your own self and the interview.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: All right. Retired bishops get to do that.
RAYMOND: Yes. We are, it's June 26, 2008. We are here at the home of Bishop Emeritus Leroy Matthiesen?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Mm hm. Theodore Matthiesen.
RAYMOND: Leroy Theodore Matthiesen. Gabriel Solis is behind the camera and my name is Virginia Raymond and the Bishop has consented to
let us interview him today, and I thank you very much. And we're here at his home in Amarillo. Bishop, could you tell us just about growing up, being from the area?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Well, I was born on a cotton farm thirty miles northeast of San Angelo, central West Texas. On June 11, 1921, so I'm
RAYMOND: Happy Birthday.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Thank you. I don't call them happy. I kind of mark the passage of time. So I grew up there, and developed of course a
love for the soil, the land, that kind of thing. Then I went off to the seminary in Ohio and spent eleven years there. Different world.
And the seminary was the pontifical college Josephinum, it was a home mission seminary, so there were guys there from all over the United States, and that
opened up a whole new brand world for me. And I was ordained for service in the diocese of Amarillo and that was part where I grew up, that was part of the diocese and my bishop at the time was
Bishop Lawrence Fisheim and he was very much interested in history and all these kinds of things and creating a good church newspaper for the diocese so he sent me up to Denver to study
journalism under Monsignor Matt Smith.
That was a system of newspapers, Catholic newspapers for the United States. At one time we had a circulation of almost a million copies a week and served
about thirty-two different dioceses from the East coast to the West coast. Again, I was exposed to a much broader understanding of the immensity of the world, the church, and all that kind of
And when I came back, then later on a bishop, then became editor of the paper. Wrote a column--the West Texas Catholic now called. It's gone through
several name changes. And in 1952, I believe it was, that I started a column that was called "Wise and Otherwise." And I wrote that until about 1999 for a long period of time. So this book that
I wrote "Wise and Otherwise: The Life and Times of a Cotton Picking Texas Bishop," came out of those columns, reflections, memoir, autobiography, that sort of thing.
Then after coming back from Denver--I was there two years and got a degree in journalism and that sort of thing. Then later on, the next bishop, John
Markofsky wanted to start a preparatory seminary for high school guys. He asked me to do that, to be the rector of that. I said I would if I could get some training in secondary school
So he sent me to Catholic University in Washington D.C. and I got a degree in that. And that again exposed me to a lot of different cultures and ways of
thinking and that sort of thing. Came back from that and then became principal of our high school, and while I was editor of the paper, and I was pastor of a parish, St. Lawrence here in
Amarillo. And vocationary for the diocese.
Again, very broad exposure. And that, I think, brought me to where I am now in my thinking about the state of the world, the state of society, the state of
the church, and that's of course my principle focus of attention. And so I was ordained for this diocese in 1946.
In 1979 my predecessor, Bishop Lawrence Defalco, had died of cancer. He had resigned before that and the Priest Senate, as it was called in those days,
elected me the administrator. And that went on for nine months. People used to ask me, "When are we going to get another bishop?" I'd say, Its going to be a nine-month pregnancy. And then all
of a sudden I was born.
I was ordained a bishop in 1980, May thirtieth. And I served until I retired in 1997. Prior to that, I had been pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish, east
of Amarillo. Within its territorial lines, and that's how our church is set up, parishes with lines, lay Pantex. There was a big sign on Highway sixty, U.S. sixty, saying, "Pantex: Research and
Development arm of Sandia Laboratories."
In those days, there was lots of talk about atoms for peace and I thought, Oh, boy, that's really great. I didn't know until later on that that was not
exactly what they were doing. They were assembling nuclear warheads produced elsewhere, all over the country.
And the parts were delivered here and Pantex, which is funded by the first Department of Energy, it may still be, I'm not quite sure. Yeah, I think it
still is. And then they get private contractors to run that. That whole place started as a munitions assembly plant in World War two.
And then for a while there was nothing going on there, but then came this, and I was--when I had people right in St. Francis parish who worked there. And the
people here in Amarillo and what became St. Lawrence Cathedral also worked there. And then I began to wonder about that, and then as time went on, it didn't take very long, people used to ask
me, "What's going on out there?"
And I gradually found out and when they referred questions to me about whether or not we should be working out there--these were Catholic people, I
referred that question to the Bishop. Now I'm the Bishop. And the buck stopped there.
So when Ronald Reagan, President Ronald Reagan was elected--President Jimmy Carter, under his administration, the atomic energy commission or whatever was in
charge of it at the time, developed what they called the neutron bomb, the enhanced radiation warhead, which was described as a nuclear bomb which would of course kill on impact, but the
biological rays would go out, the neutron rays would go out and kill all biological life.
That struck me as being immoral because it would kill anything: human beings, babies in the womb, all those kinds of things. And so I issued a statement,
thinking that when that announcement was made, that under President Ronald Reagan--Carter had decided not to do it although the technology was there, and Reagan then decided to go ahead with
it. I thought surely the media are going to call me and ask me what I think about it, but they didn't.
I had drawn out the statement and put it in my desk ready for the news media to come and they didn't. So I gave it to the editor of our paper, and I said,
Here, this I think is an important development and as the bishop I think I need to take a position on it and I have.
So I issued a statement and I said, Put it into the paper. Don't put it on the front page, just put it someplace. Well, in those days we had two papers
Morning Times and the evening. The
Morning Times said, "Bishop decries nuclear arms race." It got a ho hum reaction. The next one, some headline writer picked up on that and said, "Bishop calls on Pantex workers to
And all, h-pa pa pa broke out. And there was just anger here. But eventually--well, what happened was, I received a call from Bishop Joe Fiorenza who was
then bishop at San Angelo, thanking me for making that statement. We were going to meet, the bishops of Texas in Corpus Christi, a couple of weeks later, and he said, "I'd like to put that on
the agenda of the bishops' meeting."
I said fine, asking for a resolution of support for your statement. I said, Well, do you think they'll support it? He said, "Well let's find out." So we went
down there and he introduced that resolution to support my statement. He had already given them copies of it. Well, it was in the news.
After he passed it and it was seconded, there was a silence. And I said, Before you vote on this, you need to know that when you get back home, you're going
to be greeted by news people. They said, "That's okay." And they passed it unanimously. Not only that; they issues their own statement.
They've always been consistent with this all the way through. As with the death penalty, the abolition of that that they call for constantly because these
are seen as attacks on--When trying to get rid of the enemy, you also kill innocent people.
That was of course also their problem with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To this day, people say it saved lives. Well, it did save American lives, of course. My
own brother was over in Germany at the time, and he was preparing to go to Japan for that, and then this came and they surrendered.
Now they're saying they also saved a lot of Japanese lives because they would have died in defending their country. And so, but again, preemptive strikes and
taking the lives of innocent people is immoral; there's no question about that. So here we are still.
So what happened was that got on the agenda of the National Assembly of Bishops in Washington, D.C. And then we got into this Cardinal Bernadine in
Chicago. He was appointed chairman of a committee of five. It was balanced. There was one bishop who was very strongly for, another was against it, two that were in between, and for two
years they did an extensive consultation in this country. The result of that was in 1983 in May, the issuance of the Peace Pastoral: The Challenge of Peace, God's Promise, and Our
And in that, there was a condemnation of the possession and use, the deployment and use of--but still the judgment was that given present circumstances at
the height of the Cold War, they said, well actually what happened was that under the guidance of Archbishop John, what was his name? He's not retired, in San Francisco.
We had passed a total moral condemnation of the assembly, and deployment and of course use of nuclear weapons. The next day, Cardinal Bernadine who
personally approved that said we have to reconsider.
Because in June of eighty-two, there was a U.N., a second U.N. General Assembly in New York, and the question came up about this, and the secretary to the
Vatican came over and their statement that the Holy Father at that time issued said that given present circumstances, one may still say that the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent,
not for use, but as a deterrent, was still morally acceptable on the condition that when the Cold War ends, if and when it did, then that condition would be removed.
Well that was in eighty-three, and he said every five years we'll review this. In 1988 the Berlin Wall was still up, I believe, so the Cold War was still
there, so they kept it going. In 1993, it didn't even make it on the agenda. It went to the Committee on International Policy, which kind of shelved it.
And it hasn't changed since. Bishop Tom Gumbleton retired, and I and others have tried to get it back on the agenda, but haven't succeeded. At present
circumstances, I hope that they'll get it back on there. Meanwhile, we bishops have been concerned about, as some say, rearranging the decks of the Titanic while it's going down instead of
dealing with really big issues, dealing with the safe environment and stuff, which is important, but my goodness, let's go on and deal with and address other issues that do away with respect
for life from beginning to the end.
So with all of that I'm in the position I am now. I've been asked, "How do you feel about what you did in that age of nuclear policy?" Oh. "Were you
proud of what you did?" And I said, I don't understand that question. I just made the statement that I did, and I did it. I was really stunned when the whole world descended here, the
major television networks.
Even Pravda came over and asked for an interview. I said, Hmm, I don't think so. That kind of thing. I've also gotten involved in another issue, and
that is the issue of ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. I got into all kinds of trouble with that one.
RAYMOND: I didn't know about this. When was this?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Well, when I was the bishop and I began to get--when all of these abuse cases broke in Louisiana with Larry Bothea and the
diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, Archbishop Flores called us together in Beaumont and he had a priest there by the name of Michael Gemeo, who was a certified counselor over at Texas A and
He was a priest, he was also a canon lawyer. He had a civil law degree, and he was a counselor and he laid out for us the way we needed to handle this
sort of thing. Subsequently, I had him come up to Amarillo and address our priests, and then I received a request from Sister Janine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, who were--they had started
a New Ways Ministry, using a term that was used by a now deceased bishop from Brooklyn.
My memory chips are eroding. But he used that term. We call it New Ways Ministry: new ways of ministering to people, including gays and lesbians. And that's
still a problem for us because the church has officially in the catechism of the Catholic Church officially described homosexuality as a basically disordered function.
Well, it lays a kind of a guilt trip because there are those who think they can, people can change their, what do you want to call that, their sexuality? And
some try. So anyway, they wrote to me and asked to come to Amarillo. I checked around or they sent me all kinds of recommendations from other bishops.
What they were doing was simply talking about that, talking about how to minister to gay and lesbian Catholics who are having a really tough time in closets
and all that sort of stuff. So I did, and they simply talked about that, and you didn't make judgments about that. I remember getting a letter from a local bishop in Oklahoma saying, "Did I not
know that Cardinal James Hickey in Washington, D. C. would not allow that."
And I said, Yes, I know that, but he's not the bishop of Amarillo; I am. So I've always been something of a rebel, I'm afraid.
RAYMOND: I did not know about this. I guess it didn't appear in "Wise and Otherwise." So the new ways to date, when you say they came
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Yes they did.
RAYMOND: Did they stay here or what?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: They spoke at Saint Anthony's hospital. There was a nun there--that's another whole sidetrack here, there was a sister there by
the name of Olivia Prendergast, and she was from Ireland and she had gone back to Ireland and discovered hospice, which was totally unknown here and came back and persuaded the sisters to build
a free standing hospice at St. Anthony's hospital.
They didn't have the money to do it, so they asked--well, they had a board of directors. They needed I think it was going to cost like three million,
way back in the early 1980s. So the board said okay and they invited a man named Jim Matthews from Indiana, a Methodist, who was a great fundraiser.
I mean big time stuff, although he looked like an Indiana farmer--called himself Hoosier Tex. He told me about the meeting they had in which the president of
the board, Bill Ware, president of Amarillo National Bank, proposed that the sisters--and they had all the big wheels come up from San Antonio because it was the Incarnate Word Health System,
and about eleven hospitals in Texas and said, "We'd like to have Jim Matthews here to head up this campaign to raise the money."
They asked him there, he was the president. He said, "Yes, I'll do that on one condition; that you allow me to get the pastor of the First Baptist Church
here to be my co-chair." But he didn't mention that, he just mentioned the name. And Sister Ira, sister from the head of the thing said, "Which parish does he belong to here?"
He said, "Sister, I'm not a Catholic. I'm a Methodist." "Oh, well." And then he said, "Sister, " He was all for it, he had gone over to Ireland himself and
he'd seen it, the work they do. In other words, they help people who are considered to be terminally ill, like six months to live to the very end, not just--So he said, "Sister, in Amarillo, to
raise three million, you don't go where the money ain't. You go where the money are. And in Amarillo, the money are with the Baptists. That's why I want Winfred Moore."
Winfred Moore, a wonderful guy. And with his cooperation and support, I mean, all he had to do was put the word out and he raised four million. So Sister
Olivia--so they opened it up and it began functioning. Well, one day a young man was admitted by the doctor. It takes two doctors to sign them in, and he was dying of AIDS.
Now what? So she called--she asked me to come to a secret meeting of several ministers, including a young Baptist from a town outside. So she told us about
this problem. This young man, she said, was dying. And he was the son of a big rancher here, and his father would come to visit him but would not go into his room because they all thought
it was contagious.
And so she said he stood outside in the hallway and yelled to his son, but he wouldn't go near him. So she was trying to let us know that you don't make
judgments about how do you get this stuff. He's here, he's dying. And it's interesting, one of these, this young Baptist from this little town came with his Bible, "Well here it says,
blah, blah, blah," but everyone else went along with it. And it's doing well.
And at just that time St. Anthony's Hospital and High Plains Baptist merged into Baptist St. Anthony's Hospital. Doing very well. That's another issue that,
somehow or another I've gotten into controversial issues all my life: that is the nuclear question, the gay and lesbian ministry, and other things, well, the death penalty, the murder and rape
of Sister Tadea Benz, whom I knew quite well.
RAYMOND: Let me just ask. I'm a little confused. The AIDS crisis, when people were dying, a lot of people were dying at first, and
when the hospice movement started, was some distance from when the sexual abuse scandal came out.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Oh, sure.
RAYMOND: And so I'm a little confused time-wise, when Bishop Flores called you together and then the thing with sister--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: That was very early on.
RAYMOND: Oh, he did?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: It was-- I had just been the bishop here for a couple of years.
RAYMOND: Oh, okay.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: The first thing that happened, of course, was the murder of Sister Tia. That was on Halloween night in 1981. And now this came
RAYMOND: I see. So the August letter about Pantex in West Texas Catholic--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Same year. I mean 1981, that was in August of 1981.
RAYMOND: And September was the bishop's meeting in Corpus.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Yep.
RAYMOND: And October was the tragedy.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Sister Tadea. All of that happened like wow, you know?
RAYMOND: Now I also read that the Capuchin sisters--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Capuchin. Capuchin, yeah.
RAYMOND: Capuchin came in August. Was Sister Tadea--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: No, no. She belongs to Franciscan Sisters. Their full title is Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Pasto, Colombia, South
America. That's their full, legal title. Those sisters here, and when we go over you'll meet some of them, came from Switzerland.
I mean they went on a mission down to South America, and then our bishop, the first one who heard about them and asked them to come up here in 1932, and
they've been here ever since. And then when I became bishop I was living in this big old two-story house with twenty some rooms. I wasn't at home in it. I was just uncomfortable.
And my predecessor, Bishop Defalco, had told us very often he had two visions. One was to build a retreat center; it's up there right now. Unknown to us he
had saved the money to do it, so we built it. He'd also said, "I would love to have a community of cloistered nuns to pray for the needs of the diocese, to be the spiritual heart of the
We said, "Well why don't you get them?" And he said, "Well I've tried. I went to Roswell, they have some cloistered nuns there. They said they don't
have enough. Went to San Antonio, they don't have enough. Went to Lufkin, Texas, the Dominicans, they don't have enough."
Then he died, and that summer after I was ordained, I went--I had an occasion to go down to San Antonio for some reason, and I had the chancellor with me,
and while we were there I said, "I'm going to go over and visit--" there were some, I think they were Carmelites, cloistered in San Antonio, Saint Theresa's.
So I went over there and I introduced myself, and they were behind these grills and all these kinds of things. And I said, I'm asking you to consider
founding a monastery up in Amarillo. She said, "I'll put you on the list." And I said, Oh please. Then I said, By the way, where am I on the list? She said, "You're number fifty."
And I said, Well, keep us there anyway. And I started to walk out and I stopped and turned around and went back, and I said, Well, keep us on the list. But
do you perhaps know any community that I might invite? And she said, "Yes, there's one in Guadalajara, Mexico. They're looking for a bishop in this country to sponsor them." I said, How
do I get in touch with them? "Well, there's a priest over in San Fernando Cathedral who just came from there, from Guadalajara who knows them and he's here." So I went over there and talked to
RAYMOND: Who was that?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: What was his name? I've got all that someplace, but anyway he said, "Well sure. Give me a letter, and I'm going back down there
in two weeks and I'll deliver it to them." So when I got back I wrote the letter, sent it to him, he delivered it. Boom, I get a call saying we're ready to come.
I said to the chancellor, Now what do I do with them? So the following spring--this was all in 1980. The spring of 1981, I went down to see them. I took a
priest with me, Tony Gonzales, because he was fluent in Spanish, and I could communicate but I wasn't fluent.
We went down there and they said we're ready to go, just tell us. I said, Well, we have to find a place to put you. There were going to be nine who would
come. So we talked about different places and finally I said--And one of the priests said, "Didn't you always say you were uncomfortable in that house?" And I said, "Yes."
And so he said, "Well, why don't you let them use it?" That's what happened. So that's the bishop's house where you came, the house there. You might have
seen the sign.
RAYMOND: Yes, I did-- the monastery.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: So they've been here since, well, they came in in August of 1981 and have been here ever since.
RAYMOND: What a year.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: And they grew up to have about twenty-five members, almost all from, in fact I think all from Mexico. And then they started
another monastery in Pueblo, and then groups--they're a loose federation, all these monasteries, and they have a monastery down there, and founded one up in Delaware, then in Denver,
Colorado. We started one in Pueblo, and they started another one in Brownsville. Boom. There's a wonderful story behind that but that's going down a side road.
RAYMOND: Maybe we'll get back but maybe not. There's so many other things I want to ask you about. Well, to get back then to Sister
Tadea, you had known her for a while?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Oh, I'd been her chaplain for a number of times. She was a very lovely person. She was an accomplished seamstress. In
Switzerland in those days they would train girls to do certain things like that. And so she was trained in embroidery and that kind of thing.
Then she decided to enter the Franciscan Sisters community and she wound up here. So here the big clothing stores, they made all kinds of ermine coats and
all that kind of stuff, and they would get her to embroider their names and so on.
I was in Houston talking as a matter of fact to one of the colleges or universities. I don't remember which one it was, and on Sunday morning, I was about to
come back to Amarillo. I was speaking, I think, that Saturday evening, and I got word from here that she'd been murdered.
And I flew up, and I mean we were just stunned. It's a long story about that day and what happened was that on Sunday morning they had mass at six thirty in
the morning and she was not there. So they sent one of the sisters back to see if she was all right and she found her on the floor.
And as it turned out she had been stripped, she had been stabbed, she had been bloodied. And the poor sisters, they didn't know what to do so they cleaned
her up, which was a big mistake because it erased all kinds of evidence although they found plenty of it.
They found semen, they found blood, they found all these kinds of things. And then they called, I think they probably called a doctor first or something and
of course then the police came out. They of course then had an autopsy done on her body and that kind of thing.
And then the question was who did this? The sisters had gone to their community room and found broken glass inside and a brick or something. They cleaned
that up as they would do. Then the police began to investigate it, and they didn't find anybody for four years.
I say in the book that they immediately arrested Johnny Frank Garrett, who lived down the street. I knew him as well. I knew the family. I was living across
the street from them in that building, down there on the second floor. I didn't know the story about them at all.
So four years later, and the city was just in shock, everybody was. So a lot of pressure was put on the police department and on the district attorney to
find the murderer. Four years later, they had found Johnny Frank Garretts's fingerprints, not on her body, not in the room, but elsewhere.
So with that they arrested him. And there was a trial. I didn't go to the trial. It was a long one and he was convicted, and then the death penalty. The
sisters of course were in shock. They turned that room she was in into a little chapel and they've kept a candle burning in there ever since. But they did not want him executed. They were
against the death penalty, as I was.
So he was sent down to Huntsville, and then I don't know, I don't know exactly what prompted us to do it, but the bishops of Texas had appealed to abolition
for the death penalty. They had always been doing that, and I wrote the governor, Ann Richards, who was then the governor of Texas, and she responded.
We were all down in San Angelo on a retreat for the bishops at Christ the King Retreat Center in San Angelo when I got a call from Ann Richards. I took the
call in the kitchen. She said, "This is Governor Ann Richards, " and she said, "I'm sorry that I cannot commute his death penalty to life in prison."
And we thought without parole. In those days it was with possibility of parole. Now they've changed that and you can do that. That's what they
wanted was commutation to a life in prison without the possibility of parole. And she said, "But I cannot do that. Only the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles can do that." I found out later on
that was not true, that the board can recommend it, and the board would do whatever the governor wanted.
But politically it was not a smart move for her to do that, and that's where of course political ambition gets into the way of--I had a lot of respect for
Governor Ann Richards but on that one she waffled and I found out later on from Jeff Blackburn and, oh, who's the other one here in town, Jesse Quackenbush, that she did have the--but she had
to ask the board to do it.
The bishops, DeFiorenza and other in Texas who had--there's a eighteen-member board of that Board of Pardons and Paroles and they called their constituents
and asked them to vote for the commutation and they told me that they said yes they would. So for the first time in history apparently, Ann Richards did call for the board to meet personally,
to come together.
Always before they did it by telephone. As far as I know they still do. It's almost a foregone conclusion. We had a board member up here and I didn't
call her and ask about that, but we went down there to Sam Houston State University where they train students in criminal justice and they have a mock courtroom. The irony of that dawned on me
And so we went down there. I went with my vicar general, Monsignor Pete De Bernadetto who was against the death penalty. We went with a local attorney who
had done it pro bono, defending him, didn't have all the information and didn't have the means to investigate. There were two civil rights attorneys, the legal defense fund or something in
Austin, some guys.
We met in the hotel room the night before, to plan some kind of strategy. And then district attorney Danny Hill was there with his assistant district
attorney Corky Roberts and Kathryn Moore who had taught Johnny at Travis Junior High was there to testify and they had, those two attorneys from Austin had hired a woman psychologist from New
York and she did extensive visits with Johnny and demonstrated rather conclusively that he had different personalities, and with all of that, I spoke my piece.
I said the sisters in St. Francis Convent--I had asked the Mother Superior to come down but she was kind of--but I said may I say that the sisters--and she
said "Yes," so I brought them all together and I asked them. "No, we don't want him executed, just commutation to the death penalty." I mean to life in prison.
So I said that, and the vicar general spoke, and Kathryn Moore spoke about her experience with Johnny Frank Garrett. He was seventeen-years-old at the time.
Nowadays he wouldn't be executed because they passed that, but they asked about his terrible, terrible upbringing. And who else was there? Well that was about it.
So we spoke our piece. They were all there. It was like a jury room, and the judge was sitting there, a mock judge. I don't know who he was. And so
then Danny Hill got up. He brought a stack of information and documents, and he said, "If you recommend commutation, I can guarantee you Johnny Frank Garrett will get out on parole very
quickly," although I think it was forty years at the time before he even asked for parole, although I don't think they would have granted it anyway.
But he said, "I can guarantee you that Johnny Frank will be back in Amarillo, walking the streets, murdering and raping and blah, blah, blah." And he says,
"When you recess to consider, you can read this." Well it was totally ridiculous and then Corky Roberts got up and he said, before he came down he went to St. Francis Convent and personally
spoke with each of the sisters and without exception each said, "We want him executed, I want him executed."
I said, "That's a lie." He said, "You're not allowed to say anything." No rebuttal; it wasn't a trial. And it turned out to be a mockery. And so they
recessed, the justices and the jury, the board, go into this room. I took the occasion to go to the restroom to urinate; that's all, and walked out and everybody was leaving. I said, "What
happened?" And they said, "They came in and without exception, except for one, one black man abstained from voting. Everybody else voted for rejecting commutation." And with that he was
Jesse Quackenbush, who's a local civil rights attorney, who says I don't take a position for or against the death penalty, in that documentary that he did,
said the evidence is overwhelming. After the, what is it, ten year freedom of information business?
RAYMOND: Open records?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Yeah. He dug up all kinds of information. As it turned out, no question but that he proves conclusively to me and everybody
that has seen it, that the murder was actually done by a Cuban when, was it [inaudible].
Who was the president who urged Castro to release people from prison down there? I mean it was kind of standard. So okay, and he released his hardened
criminals and they came up here. They of course were welcomed as refugees, and our local County Family Service is the agency that the government uses to help people like that. It started with
the Vietnamese in 1975 to help them find a place to live, a job, that kind of thing.
So they had to do this. They didn't know the situation. They couldn't do anything about it anyway. And so they found these guys jobs in Amarillo. There's no
question that one of them, in fact Jesse's got in his argument in this documentary, which was kind of flamboyant, but I would say that to be a good attorney you have to have a big ego.
At any rate, they found the guy who did it, there's a man still in Parker County Detention Center, one of these Cubans, who knows who did it, but he won't
tell him. At any rate, they found a t-shirt, bloodstained. Just before that there had been another woman in this neighborhood who had been murdered and raped, and the guy who did it left
his bloody t-shirt.
I mean he would cut them up and that kind of stuff in both places. And they've got the blood and they've got-- none of that matched Johnny Frank Garrett.
They've got semen samples. None of that matched Johnny Frank Garrett, but of course he's dead.
RAYMOND: I read-- first of all, do you need a glass of water or anything?
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Yeah.
RAYMOND: Could we stop for a second? I had--last night I was looking through my notes and looking through some articles that I'd
pulled from the New York Times and so forth around the time of--right before the execution, when Ann Richards was governor. It seems that two things were going on. You were arguing about
his home life.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Well, not just me, but Kathryn Moore, and by the way, before I forget it, yours is After Violence, that's it? You know Sister
Tadea Benz of course is dead, Johnny Frank Garrett is dead, Danny Hill, the district attorney later got into heavy drinking, came home one day and put a revolver, a service revolver into his
mouth and just killed himself.
Kathryn Moore committed suicide, she was so depressed by all of this. And Danny Hill's daughter, fourteen-years-old, committed suicide. So you had five
deaths. So its the old adage in the scriptures, "Violence begets violence." It started with the story of Cain and Abel.
I think it's a way of us figuring out why is there evil in the world? Thinking about this Native American grandfather who told his grandson, "In each one of
us there are two wolves: one is a bad one, one is a good one." And this grandson says, "Well, which one is going to win?" And he thought about it and he said, "The one you feed."
So anyway, you had that story about Cain and Abel. And then Cain said, Oh, my god, now I'm gonna get killed, seven times over. That's where that seven come
in, all the time. That's a universal. I'm just gonna get killed and killed, not just himself but members of his family and all this, and that's when this comes in; an eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth.
Only one in all the Old Testament, didn't allow if you killed one person, than if you could be killed but no other people should be killed. And then of
course then in the New Testament Jesus tries to say No, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. And of course nonviolence is the only real answer to the question, but difficult
to do. Go ahead.
RAYMOND: Oh. Well, you--somebody had been making claims that Mr. Garrett didn't even do this shortly before he was executed.
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: Oh yes. He protested his innocence to the very end. I mean in fact that's the title of Jesse's book, I mean his documentary,
"The Last Word." And he turns out to be--he was in prison for a long time, and from the time of her murder until they arrested him four years later he must have gotten a pretty good education
because he wrote letters and that kind of thing.
Unless somebody was helping him, they are very well done. And of course the last word is, when he was on the gurney and so on, the last word was, he finally
said--and this has given rise to the Johnny Frank Garrett wished evil to other people, and that was his last word. That "You killed me." And I forget exactly what he said. I've seen the
thing twice, where Jeff Blackburn talks about it.
There's a--I can't think of this other local attorney who at one time was chairman of the board of the T.D.C.J. He once addressed their Rotary Club. He
used to belong to the downtown Rotary Club when they were building the Clements Unit here, which was going to cost thirty million dollars and did.
He said--he's funny. He came there and all of these guys in the Rotary Club are these business types, the movers and shakers of Amarillo, women as well, and
there he was--Levis and a tee shirt. He said, "You want me to talk about the prison system or whatever?" He said, "I know you're very proud of that building. Who do you think is gonna pay for
And he reached into his pocket and pulled out some money and said, "You are." And then he said, "And it's gonna cost fifteen million a year to operate it.
Who's gonna pay for that?" "You are. And I know that you are hoping to build another one." As a matter of fact they did, the Neal Unit. We've got two of them here.
All together they're five thousand people there, inmates. And he said, "Who's gonna pay for that?" He pulls it out, "We're out of money." Whoa. They got
angry. Well what would you do? Well, I would stop building prisons and I would put money into education, family life and all that kind of thing. You're not dealing with the systemic problem.
You're putting band aids on it, that sort of thing.
RAYMOND: Did you talk to Johnny Frank Garrett at any time between--
BISHOP MATTHIESEN: No. No, I didn't. I don't know, in hindsight I probably should have, but I was involved in the nuclear stuff. I mean it
was criss-crossing the country talking about that and all those kinds of things, and then just the daily operation of the diocese.
At the last showing, screening or whatever of this, it was down at West Texas State University. There is a Black woman, a young Black woman who runs
some kind of Students for Justice, and Johnny Frank's mother was there, and Charlotte, Johnny's sister was there, and they have gone through the period of weeping and that sort of stuff and
afterword I talked with them a little bit and Charlotte said, "We finally are getting closure on this because people were beginning to realize that Johnny was innocent and was victimized."
He was not the only victim, I said. There were four others. There's a lot of--there are people here who you could talk to. It was interesting to me in
regard to the nuclear question, there was a professor who came to me from West Texas, at night, under cover of darkness.
He said, "I'm a professor of physics and chemistry, and I support your statement but I can't do that publicly. I'd be fired like that." He said,
"I can't. I've got family, kids, a job." There was a rabbi, a Jewish rabbi, who publicly supported the statement. He was gone after a little bit. There was a Methodist minister right down
the street who publicly did so. They fired him.
This area, of course, is known as macho, redneck country. I've always said that World War Two, as bad as that was of course in terms of life, although Hitler
was a big old problem and all that and the Nazis, but it changed the attitude here.
We were very parochial, and during World War Two they had a big Air Force base where they trained jet mechanics. There were about twenty thousand students,
and they came from all over the country, particularly Pennsylvania and eastern, and one of the things that people were encouraged to do was to invite them to have Sunday dinner in their
Well, lo and behold, people discovered that they learned a lot that way. Even so, the official attitude was--Pat, I remember the mayor of Amarillo at the
time, he said, "I don't know what the bishop is doing." It's good for business. So there you go. What else?
RAYMOND: Well we have two minutes of tape so we need to change anyway. [END OF TAPE ONE]
, of "Interview with Bishop Leroy Matthiesen."
At the time of this interview in 2008, Bishop Leroy Theodore Matthiesen (1921 - 2010) was the Bishop Emeritus of Amarillo. In this interview he discusses the moral and religious beliefs that created the most controversy during his tenure as bishop: his encouragement of Pantex employees to leave their work of assembling nuclear weapons; ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics; his advocacy for Johnny Frank Garrett, who was executed for rape and murder of the Sister Tadea Benz; and organic farming in Texas. The bishop also describes his life growing up on a Texas cotton farm in the 1920s, his inspiration to become a priest, and life in the seminary. He talks about the demographic changes he witnessed in his time as priest and bishop in Amarillo as first Mexicans and then Vietnamese migrated to the Texas Panhandle. Finally, he describes his spiritual and intellectual influences, most notably Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.