Runaway Priests [See a list of articles in the series.]
Hiding in Plain Sight
Salesians Dispute Report That They Moved Suspects in Abuse
Order's Leaders Don't Address Specifics; News Stands by Story

By Brendan M. Case
Dallas Morning News
June 23, 2004

Salesians of Don Bosco leaders have disputed a report by The Dallas Morning News that they have moved priests accused of child sexual abuse from country to country, away from law enforcement and victims.

In Rome, the Salesians' worldwide headquarters said it "categorically denies such behavior and condemns every kind of abuse of minors," according to a written statement posted on its Web site.

The statement did not address several specific cases that were the focus of the report in The News' Sunday editions – including that of the Rev. Frank Klep, who was moved to the Pacific island of Samoa in 1998 while he was under criminal investigation in Australia.

Father Klep has remained in Samoa since being charged with five counts of indecent assault a few months after his relocation. He had been convicted in a separate abuse case in 1994 and sentenced to nine months of community service.

Robert W. Mong, president and editor of The News, said: "Our team spent months interviewing and gathering documents for our stories on the Salesians, which documented several instances in which the order had moved accused priests across international borders. We attempted to interview international and regional leaders of the order, but they declined. We remain confident of our reporting."

The Salesians' worldwide leader in Rome is the Rev. Pascual Chávez, who in the 1990s kept an admitted molester in ministry in Mexico, The News reported Sunday.

Father Chávez did not respond to The News' previous requests for comment or to detailed written questions sent by fax. The Salesian headquarters in Rome said regional order leaders were responsible for handling individual sexual abuse cases.

In Australia, Father Klep's regional superior, the Rev. Ian Murdoch, said "that not all of the facts contained in ... [the] article are correct." But he did not provide specifics.

When The News contacted Father Murdoch before the report was published, he said the order was doing its best to monitor Father Klep, then terminated the interview.

In a written statement issued this week, Father Murdoch said that the Salesians "have cooperated, and will certainly continue to cooperate, with any law enforcement agency."

He maintained that Father Klep's work was only with adults. The News published a front-page photograph of Father Klep handing candy to children. It also interviewed teenage boys who said that they regularly visited the priest and that he gave them odd jobs and spending money. One 14-year-old also said Father Klep regularly helped him with his schoolwork alone in the priest's bedroom.

In the United States, the country's top two Salesians issued a joint statement on Sunday denying that numerous Salesian priests accused of sexually abusing minors have been transferred from country to country.

"While one can find a few instances of failure in this regard among a Congregation numbering over 16,000 members, such a general characterization of the Salesians of Don Bosco is patently false and misleading," said the statement, which was signed by the Rev. James Heuser and the Rev. David Purdy.

Father Heuser declined to share the Salesians' policy on sexual abuse cases when The News called him several weeks ago.



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