Catholic Diocese documents detail problem priests
Attorneys for abuse victims say the diocese is still holding back 2,000 pages
by Greg Moran
Three years after the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego settled scores of claims of sexual abuse by its priests, lawyers for the plaintiffs released thousands of documents Sunday from church files showing diocese officials quietly moved some problem priests from parish to parish.
The documents are from the personnel files of 48 priests who were convicted of sexual abuse, had credible accusations made against them or were named in civil suits. Their release is part of a landmark, $200 million settlement between the diocese and the victims that was made in 2007.
A key part of that settlement for the victims was an agreement that priests’ personnel files would be made public after review by a judge to determine what could be released and what would remain private.
On Friday, retired San Diego Superior Court Judge William Pate signed an order releasing an estimated 10,000 pages of records.
“This is a major victory and a historic moment for the victims” said Irwin Zalkin, who represented many of the 144 people who sued the diocese for sexual abuse that had occurred sometimes decades earlier.
Zalkin said both sides continue to argue about whether an additional 2,000 pages of records should be made public.
The documents released Sunday go back to the 1950s and show that the diocese was aware of complaints against some priests but continued to assign them to parishes. Mostly, however, the documents contain records detailing the more mundane elements of serving the faithful — everything from paying bills to, in one priest’s case, being criticized by church leaders for having hair too long and sporting “hippie” sideburns.
They also contain darker passages. The files concerning Anthony Rodrigue, a defrocked priest who admitted molesting children and was eventually convicted and served time in prison, show that the diocese kept assigning him to parishes despite complaints against him for almost a decade. He was forced to retire in 1982.
A message seeking comment on the documents release left with the diocese chancery headquarters on Sunday was not returned.
Most of the files deal with priests who are no longer serving as Roman Catholic clergy. Zalkin said that at least one, Gustavo Benson, is serving in Mexico, but that could not be confirmed.
In Rodrigue’s case, a psychiatric report from 1989 — after he was retired from priestly duties — said that when he served at Our lady of Guadalupe parish in El Centro in the 1970s, he had “further difficulties with minors.”
The diocese sent him for treatment to Massachusetts, then reassigned top St. George’s Church in Ontario in San Bernardino County. San Bernardino County at the time was under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Diocese.
At St. George’s, Rodrigue “experienced further sexual problems” and sought treatment from a psychiatrist.
In another case, a priest named Luis De Francisco was apparently spirited out of the country in the wake of allegations of abuse and an arrest by police in 1963. Letters from then Bishop Charles F. Buddy reference how de Francisco had been the subject of complaints from parishioners at three separate churches for “association with their children.”
After his arrest in August of that year, Buddy wrote that the diocese arranged with the “civil authorities in San Diego” that charges would be dropped if de Francisco agreed to leave the country voluntarily and vowed never to return.
“This agreement was carried through,” Buddy wrote to the bishop of Cali, Colombia, where de Francisco was from. Buddy said the priest was taken to the international border and released into Tijuana.
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Documents from the San Diego Settlement
On October 22, 2010, Judge William C. Pate ordered the release of documents relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Diocese of San Diego. This document release was a nonmonetary provision of the San Diego settlement, as ordered on August 29, 2008 by Judge Emilie Elias, of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
On this page [see link below] we present all the documents released by Judge Pate's order, and during this week, we will post the crucial documents individually for easier download. Some of these documents are also available from the website of the Zalkin Law Firm, which was our source for many of the files. The text of Judge Pate's order and the files for ten of the priests were provided by attorney Anthony DeMarco.
Some of the files linked on this page are very large. We have posted them as they were released, so that our readers could have immediate access to this important archive – the largest collection of abuse-related documents ever obtained from a California diocese. In the coming days, we will make the documents easier to access by cutting them into smaller PDFs and offering selected documents. Please refresh this page often in your browser to view the new material.
These documents are important for many reasons. They are the first public evidence of allegations of misconduct against nine priests: Brennan, Clarkin, Creaton, Jost, Kearney, MacCourt, O'Connor, O'Donohoe, and Waltos. They also provide crucial evidence that the sexual abuse crisis is an international phenomenon, and they offer a remarkably detailed history of mismanagement and concealment by the San Diego diocese's bishops and managers.
To view the documents go to:
The Huffington Post - October 24, 20
San Diego Diocese Sex Abuse Case: Lawyers Release 10,000 Unsealed Documents
By Gillian Flaccus
SAN DIEGO — Attorneys for nearly 150 people who claim sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests made nearly 10,000 pages of previously sealed internal church documents public Sunday, revealing at least one previously unknown decades-old case in which a priest under police investigation was allowed to leave the U.S. after the Diocese of San Diego intervened.
After a three-year legal battle over the Diocese of San Diego's internal records, a retired San Diego Superior Court judge ruled late Friday that they could be made public. The records are from the personnel files of 48 priests who were either credibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse or were named in a civil lawsuit.
The 144 plaintiffs settled with the diocese in 2007 for nearly $200 million, but the agreement stipulated that an independent judge would review the priests' sealed personnel records and determine what could be made public.
The files show what the diocese knew about abusive priests, starting decades before any allegations became public, and that some church leaders shuffled priests from parish to parish or overseas despite credible complaints against them.
"We encourage all Catholics, all members of the community, to look for these documents," attorney Anthony DeMarco said at a news conference. "These documents demonstrate years and years and decades of concerted action that has allowed this community's children to be victimized, and it is not until the community looks at these documents that this cycle is ever going to be ended."
At least one of the priests, Gustavo Benson, is still in active ministry in the Diocese of Ensenada in Mexico, DeMarco said. In a 2002 interview with The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Benson said he ministered to children there but had not done anything inappropriate. It wasn't immediately known what Benson's position at the diocese is now.
A phone message left Sunday night at the office of the Archbishop of Tijuana who oversees the Ensenada diocese was not immediately returned.
In at least one instance, the files included documented abuse by a priest whose name had not before surfaced in any lawsuit or criminal case, the Rev. Luis Eugene de Francisco, who was originally from Colombia. Police investigated de Francisco for allegedly abusing children, but the diocese convinced authorities to drop the case if the priest would return immediately to his Colombian diocese and never return to the U.S.
"In early August 1963, Father was placed under arrest by the civil police of the City of San Diego for violation of the State Penal Code," then-Bishop Charles F. Buddy wrote the Colombian bishop in the Diocese of Cali. "At that time, arrangements were made between this Chancery and the civil authorities of San Diego in which, if Father left the United States with the promise never to return, the charges against Father would be set aside by Civil Law."
Buddy wrote that de Francisco had crossed the border at Tijuana, Mexico, and was "directed to return directly to the Diocese of Cali."
DeMarco said the papers in the files were the first time attorneys became aware of de Francisco. No one filed a lawsuit, the church never revealed the complaints and it's unclear what happened to the priest or if he is still alive, he said.
Church files indicate he also served in Florida and Texas before arriving in the San Diego diocese, where he worked with migrant workers in the Coachella Valley about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
"You have won a reputation as a zealous worker and devoted to the poor," Bishop Buddy wrote the priest in a December 1962 letter.
"On the other hand, the 'incidents' at Indio were more serious than first presented to me, especially inasmuch as the police have made a record of them. You know how word gets around, so that you be certain that the police here will be on your trail. ... It will be more prudent and more secure for you to return to your own diocese."
Donna Daly, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of San Diego, did not immediately return a call on Sunday and no one answered at the main diocese number. Maria Roberts, an attorney for the diocese, did not immediately respond to a message left with her office on Sunday.
Another case outlined in the files involves the Rev. Robert Nikliborc, who was sent to a psychiatric treatment facility in the 1950s after the diocese received complaints, then became director of a Roman Catholic residential facility for troubled boys called Boystown of the Desert in Banning, Calif.
Boys who lived there filed lawsuits against Nikliborc and were part of the 2007 settlement, DeMarco said. The priest died while litigation was under way.
In a 1956 letter written to Nikliborc while he was at a "special retreat," Buddy referred to two incidents involving the priest without describing them, and said Nikliborc must decide whether to stand with God or against him.
"The fact is that your defects on both occasions were reported by lay people, who gave absolute proof which you could not gloss over or deny," Buddy wrote. Still, he held out the possibility that Nikliborc could again celebrate Mass.
The papers also contain documents from the files of Rev. Anthony Rodrigue. In 1976, a group of parents at Rodrigue's parish in Heber, Calif., complained he had molested their children, according to court documents.
The priest was sent to a psychiatric facility in Massachusetts for treatment but was put back in ministry despite the recommendations of those who treated him.
Rodrigue later admitted he had molested between four to five children a year over a span of 22 years, said Irwin Zalkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs. About 30 people filed lawsuits against the diocese alleging sexual abuse against the priest, who died within the last year, he said.
"He was probably one of the most prolific abusers in this diocese. ... And they knew about this guy from his days in the seminary but kept him in ministry," Zalkin said.
Attorneys are still trying for the release of an additional 2,000 pages of documents.
The release of records is biggest so far in a U.S. church case, said Terry McKiernan, founder of the website Bishop Accountability.org. The website collects and publishes internal church papers that have been released as the result of litigation on clergy abuse nationwide.
"I think as we absorb this, it will shed a lot of light on these issues. It's amazingly rich," McKiernan said. "These documents are providing a window into the California experience that we haven't had before."
Lawyers for plaintiffs have been trying to get similar internal church documents from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for years, but have not had success. That diocese settled with more than 500 plaintiffs in 2007 for a record-breaking $660 million in a settlement agreement that also called for the disclosure of priests' files.
The only other release of church files in California came after a 2005 settlement between plaintiffs and the Diocese of Orange. About 4,000 pages were made public.
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