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Issue Date:  February 27, 2004

Accused clergy serve in L.A. area

Vicar defends decision; one priest steps down after second allegation

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles monsignor who at one point oversaw priest sexual misconduct allegations for the archdiocese has stepped down as pastor following two accusations of molestation.

Two weeks ago, Msgr. Richard A. Loomis, pastor at Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua parish in San Marino, was one of 11 priests referred to by the archdiocese as priests remaining “in active service because there is a lack of sufficient or credible evidence to remove them from ministry.”

When a second allegation against Loomis subsequently surfaced, he was placed on administrative leave.

In a letter to archdiocesan clergy in early February regarding the 11 priests, Msgr. Craig Cox, the archdiocese’s vicar for clergy, said that “being named in a lawsuit is not itself proof of misconduct. Therefore, among those named are a number of priests who, for many different and weighty reasons, continue in their assignments and remain in good standing.”

That there are archdiocesan priests accused of abuse still in parish work despite the church’s zero-tolerance policy is not a phenomenon limited to Los Angeles. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- SNAP -- said that in addition to Los Angeles there are more than a half dozen bishops who have permitted priests facing sex abuse suits to continue to serve.

In addition to Loomis, 10 priests previously named by the Los Angeles Times are still serving in February despite abuse accusations. They are: Fr. Michael J. Carroll, pastor, San Lorenzo Ruiz, Walnut; Fr. Sean Cronin, Our Lady of Lourdes, Northridge; Fr. Richard Martini, pastor, Transfiguration, Los Angeles; Fr. Edward Dober, pastor, Our Lady of the Rosary, Paramount; Fr. Samuel Orellana, Presentation of Mary, Los Angeles; Fr. Walter Fernando, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pasadena; Msgr. Patrick Reilly, pastor emeritus, St. Robert Bellarmine, Burbank; Fr. James Ford, San Roque, Santa Barbara; Msgr. Manuel Sanchez, pastor emeritus, Sacred Heart, Pomona.

All reportedly have denied the molestation or misconduct allegations. The archdiocese recommended the priests remain in ministry.

Meanwhile, in February, a young man who alleged he was molested as a boy -- but kept quiet about it when his brothers accused the same Los Angeles priest -- went public after his brothers’ molestation charges were dismissed because of the statute of limitations.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the young man told the county Superior Court Feb. 9 that he had never told his family or brothers about being molested by Fr. Michael Wempe. But when the brothers’ charges were dropped, “I changed my mind when I realized that the only thing that would ensure justice was if I got involved.”

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has admitted he erred in transferring Wempe (NCR, Oct. 10, 2003). When Wempe was first accused of abuse, the cardinal transferred the priest from parish work to the Cedars Sinai Medical Center chaplaincy where, according to his current accuser, the molestation continued.

Wempe, now 63, had been criminally charged with molesting the young man’s two brothers, but those charges were dropped when the Supreme Court reversed California’s statute of limitations temporary provisions.

The young man said he trusted Wempe because the priest had baptized him, but finally “knew what happened was wrong. I was sick to my stomach. I was embarrassed, ashamed. I just wanted it to go away,” he said.

Wempe, who denies the charges, is being held on $500,000 bail.

He was one of the priests whose names the archdiocese was attempting to keep under wraps during 2002 when seven priests were forced into retirement.

Another Los Angeles priest, relieved of his clerical duties a decade ago, will be sentenced March 12 after pleading guilty to molesting two teenage boys while serving at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Paula in the late 1980s. Carlos Rene Rodriguez appeared in Superior Court Feb. 11. His lawyer, James Farley, told the Los Angeles Times, “He’s a very decent man who made some terrible mistakes a long, long time ago.” Because of his guilty plea, charges concerning other parishes were dropped. Rodriguez could receive more than 10 years in prison.

Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004

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