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Church in Crisis

Abuse revelations hit Los Angeles church

Los Angeles

Clerical sex abuse is apparently about to cost the Los Angeles archdiocese dearly in payouts, legal expenses and appalling publicity. The Los Angeles Times reported Aug.18 that the archdiocese is facing a multi-million dollar class action sex abuse lawsuit and the indictments of possibly as many as “15 current and former priests on felony sex abuse charges.”

In a 20,000-word report resulting from more than 100 interviews to which the Times assigned three writers and two researchers, the newspaper account listed the local church’s evasions and errors, including the allegation that “since 1985 … the archdiocese … worked to keep a growing problem from the eyes of the public and out of the hands of the law.”

The paper then listed the names (often with photographs) of “at least” 33 priests and one deacon who allegedly sexually abused boys, young men or girls in the 17 years since Cardinal Roger Mahony became archbishop.

One of the cases, that of Fr. Michael Stephen Baker, has the potential of creating local financial and image problems for Mahony approaching the disastrous level faced by Cardinal Bernard Law and the Boston archdiocese for transfers of known abusive priests.

In the Baker case, the priest himself allegedly told Mahony he had abused some boys, but Mahony did not remove him (see accompanying story).

Throughout the almost four-page article the cardinal was periodically quoted defending or explaining his or the archdiocese’s actions or inaction. But of the Baker case, Mahony told the Times, “I have to be honest with you. There is absolutely nothing good about the Baker case. Just absolutely nothing.”

The Times reporting, by Glenn F. Bunting, Ralph Frammolino and Richard Winton, is punctuated with accounts of Mahony failing to dismiss or take other action against accused priests. He allowed two priests, already convicted of sex offences, to continue to reside on church property and did not dismiss them until last February, said the Times.

The Times further alleged that the archdiocese “routinely failed to report errant priests to authorities” until a 1997 California law compelled disclosure. The newspaper said that language requiring the removal of a priest found to have molested a minor was not added to archdiocesan policy until last February. “Mahony was forced to adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ policy as part of a $5.2 million settlement that the archdiocese and the diocese of Orange negotiated last year with one abuse victim, Ryan DiMaria,” the Times reported.

Seven priests were allegedly removed as a result. Out-of-court settlements in various parts of the archdiocese have totaled $9.2 million in the past 18 months, $3.7 million borne by the archdiocese itself, stated the Times.

Of the 33 priests accused since 1985, five fled abroad, one disappeared. Two of those six priests are fugitives, the Times reported.

The Los Angeles Times listed the following men and incidents:

Seven priests were removed from office: Gerald B. Fessard, 56 (in 1987 pleaded no contest to soliciting lewd acts; served 36 months probation); Roderic Guerrini, 70 (denies allegations being pursued by Los Angeles Police Department of sexual misconduct with two teenage girls in the 1970s); James F. O’Grady (police are investigating the claim that O’Grady, retired in Ireland, molested altar girls); G. Neville Rucker, 81 (police are investigating two accusations of molestation involving six girls); Carl Sutphin, 70 (Los Angeles police and Ventura County sheriffs are investigating allegations of abuse of two pairs of brothers); Michael Wempe, 62 (police are investigating allegations he abused three boys); John Wishard, 70 (pleaded no contest in 1980 to “felony oral copulation charge involving a boy,” sentenced to probation, conviction later dismissed).

Six priests who served in the archdiocese were accused of abuse and later fled: Lynn Caffoe, 56 (“whereabouts unknown,” the Catholic high school counselor was accused of abuse by a student); Tilak Jayawardene, 58 (police are seeking his extradition from Sri Lanka on charges of oral copulation with a boy); Patrick Kelly, 71 (pleaded no contest from Ireland to charges of fondling a young girl, “promised to return to Los Angeles” but did not; received three years probation); Nicolas Agullar Rivera, 60 (police still investigating after Rivera “went to Mexico City following allegations that he sexually abused altar boys”; charges were dismissed in Mexico); Arulappan Savrianandam, 56 (accused of sexual touching by a teenage girl, he returned to India); Santiago Tamayo (fled to Philippines, after accusations “of having sex with underage girl in 1970, later apologized to victim”; died in 1996).

Three priests have been convicted: Richard Allen Henry, 49 (eight years, 1993, pleaded no contest to sex acts with four children in one family; is not a registered sex offender); John Anthony Salazar, 53 (six years, 1988, admitted abusing two boys; is now a registered sex offender); Deacon Arturo Ahumada, 46 (sentenced to one year in county jail, June 2002, provided pornographic material to two boys and committed sexual battery of a third).

Charges were dismissed against one priest because the case was not filed within the period allowed by the statute of limitations: Theodore Llanos (“38 counts of sexual abuse of minors,” filed in 1995; charges dismissed in 1996; committed suicide in 1997).

Seventeen priests are under investigation: Michael S. Baker (see accompanying story); Matthias Berumen, 41 (out of ministry, district attorney is investigating a 25-year-old male’s accusations of abuse in 1980s); Honesto Bismonte, 72 (on leave, pleaded not guilty to four counts of lewd acts with teenage girls); Patrick Cotter, 70 (retired, police are investigating a teenage girl’s accusation of molestation “about a decade ago”); John Dawson, 61 (out of ministry, removed in 1992 after allegations of molestation; police investigating other charges); Walter Fernando, 58 (denies allegations he fondled a teenage girl in the 1980s, police are investigating; he is on inactive leave); David Granadino, 46 (denies allegation of molesting a teenage boy, Los Angeles County sheriff is investigating; Granadino is on inactive leave); Stephen Hernandez, 68 (denies accusations of repeatedly fondling an incarcerated juvenile; Los Angeles Police Department is investigating, on inactive leave).

Philip Kavanaugh, 56 (police are investigating accusations he molested a teenager in 1970s; he is on inactive leave); Christopher Kearney, 59 (accusations of molestations during impromptu wrestling matches with Catholic high school boys; he is on inactive leave); George Miller, 64 (denies allegations he molested boys in 1970s and 1980s, police are investigating; he is retired); Joseph Pina, 56 (accused of sexual abuse of 14-year-old-girl); Dominic Savino, 63 (accused of molesting minors, he is on inactive leave); John Santillan, 63 (denies allegation he sexually abused an altar boy in 1970s, police are investigating; he is now in Bolivia); Fidencio Silva, 54 (denies allegations of sexual abuse of boys; victims are suing the archdiocese and Silva; he resides in Mexico); Carl Tresler, 37 (investigation is proceeding into allegations he abused a 15-year-old boy; he was removed from ministry in Los Angeles; now serving as priest in Peru); Christian Van Llefde, 53 (police are investigating charges of abuse of a minor in 1974; now on inactive leave).

Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, August 30, 2002