Deal Exposes Dark Chapter from De La Salle's History
The inseparable friends played spirited war games, firing air rifles filled with rock salt that left their skin red and welted. They pumped iron in Lopes' garage, barking like drill sergeants until they collapsed from the strain.
They engraved their nicknames, "Bandit One" and "Bandit Two" -- from the Burt Reynolds flick "Smokey and the Bandit" -- on their class rings.
And they stayed up late, sharing the deep secrets no one else could know.
Barbour confided in Lopes that he was molested at age 11 on a Boy Scout trip, that he silently anguished over his own sexuality and God.
His soul-searching would plunge the two of them into a dark passage in the history of De La Salle and the Christian Brothers order that oversees the Concord school and other high schools and colleges around the world.
Two decades later, the Roman Catholic order is faced with costly payouts.
The two friends, now 41, still struggle with the lasting scars from what Lopes calls a "toxic shame."
And they share searing memories of the man who they claim shattered their friendship and their youth. He went by "Brother Joe."
Joe Gutierrez was a charismatic former De La Salle teacher and a licensed therapist at St. Mary's College in Moraga. Wearing a cleric's collar, he spun a weave of religion and psychology, dispensing comfort and praise like mother's milk.
Barbour and Lopes tell the Times -- elaborating on charges made to state investigators and in legal pleadings -- that Gutierrez, then 41, did much more: He stripped their defenses, their dignity, their sweatpants. He plied them with hard drugs. He sodomized them and called it healing.
Gutierrez, who now lives in Sonoma, did not return numerous calls and e-mails.
Barbour and Lopes paint a vivid picture of the downstairs room in a Walnut Creek house where Gutierrez held therapy sessions. The low ceiling, floor pillows and tapestries. The incense and new-age music. Religious icons and artifacts.
During their senior year in 1980-81, Barbour said, therapy turned to massages, then to touching, arousal and sex. These encounters culminated in experimentation with hard drugs and a surprise foray into sadomasochism at a San Francisco bathhouse.
After the alleged sex acts, Brother Joe would lean over Barbour's prone body, Barbour recalls.
"He'd grab my head and pray for me," he said. "This was holy and sanctified and approved by God. The pictures of Jesus, the crucifixes -- it might as well have been in a church."
In a $6.3 million settlement reached last month with the Christian Brothers, Barbour and two other former De La Salle students demanded the right to make public documents and other aspects of their cases that still haunt them. The concession has opened a rare window into the workings of the order's leadership, and the acts ascribed to three religious men entrusted with guiding young men and boys.
Christian Brothers officials refused to be interviewed for this story.
Instead, their San Francisco public relations firm issued a statement and, citing privacy issues and legal constraints, declined to answer specific questions about issues surrounding the recent settlement.
"The complaints stem from alleged incidents of sexual misconduct that occurred more than 20 years ago," part of the statement reads.
"None of the alleged perpetrators is currently involved in any of (the) schools affiliated with the (San Francisco) District -- none has been involved for more than 20 years and none ever will be."
Yet at least one of the men remain in the Christian Brothers fold, albeit outside California.
Case documents, police and state reports, and interviews with victims of alleged abuse, their family members and others reveal tactics now well-known as a result of the nationwide clergy abuse scandal: shrouds of secrecy, quiet removal of the accused, a failure to guard against future abuses.
A Times investigation found additional accusations of inappropriate sexual
behavior lodged against Gutierrez, and other hushed settlements.
Barbour, an optometrist and born-again Christian, now lives with his wife and two children on a remote hill among the pines near Mount Hood in Oregon.
Lopes, who goes by Will, carried on a 10-year relationship with Gutierrez that ended in 1990, setting off a 12-year mental break that led him twice to attempt suicide. He agreed to an undisclosed sum from the religious order in 2002.
Living in Oakland, Lopes, who now runs his own construction business, says only in recent years has he begun to reclaim his life and his sanity.
And only last month when the two men spoke by phone for the first time in 17 years did they reclaim their friendship. Today they say the Christian Brothers must shoulder some of the blame for what happened to them.
Through Barbour's lawsuit, the religious order disclosed a 1968 letter that shows its leadership knew Gutierrez posed a threat before he became affiliated with De La Salle.
Provincial Bertram Coleman, the San Francisco district's leader at the time, wrote in 1968 that he moved Gutierrez "from Berkeley to Concord two years ago because he became emotionally involved with some students. This involvement had sexual overtones."
Coleman went on to express concern that Gutierrez was not being honest in describing "some imprudence in behavior with these boys. ...
"There is the question of the harm he may have done to those with whom he allowed himself to be deeply and emotionally involved," Coleman wrote.
It is unclear whether the Christian Brothers closely monitored Gutierrez at De La Salle, or when he moved on to St. Mary's, also a Christian Brothers-run school.
After leaving the religious order in the mid-1980s, Gutierrez took a contract job as a psychologist at Hanna Boys Center, a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth in Sonoma, where he worked from 1984 to 1986.
During that period, Gutierrez allegedly molested at least one child and had inappropriate sexual conduct with a young adult counselor there and in his private practice at a San Francisco church, the alleged victims claim. Both men settled their cases, the two men and Hanna Boys Center say.
Eric Markel, the former counselor, said he was 21 when Gutierrez first began to visit him for sex late at night at Hanna.
After he was fired from Hanna Boys Center, Markel said he began seeing Gutierrez in Gutierrez's office in a San Francisco church. The sessions began by exploring Markel's seething frustration at his termination but always ended in sex. Markel, who at 44 lives in a downtown Los Angeles hotel, says his sexual encounters with Gutierrez during therapy sessions in 1985 and 1986 drove him to the brink of insanity.
Markel filed a lawsuit in Contra Costa County in 1986 against Gutierrez, the Hanna Boys Center, the Christian Brothers and others. He said he received about $120,000.
Officials at the center said they had no knowledge of Gutierrez's past record at De La Salle or elsewhere.
"There were very few Ph.D.-level psychologists around with his level of training. As a Christian Brother ... it sounded like a pretty good set of qualifications," said Father John Crews, the center's executive director.
A San Francisco man settled for an undisclosed sum with the center in 1994, based on allegations that Gutierrez molested him there, when he was 13. The man, who did not want to be identified for this story, said Gutierrez would hypnotize and then fondle him in his office. Over time, he said, Gutierrez sodomized him.
"He was so popular," said the now 34-year-old man. "I didn't want to feel like I was not a part of what the other kids were doing. I figured everyone was doing the same thing."
Gutierrez relinquished his state therapist's license in 1989 after Barbour filed a complaint. The state Board of Behavioral Science Examiners accused Gutierrez of misconduct with Markel, Barbour and another former De La Salle student who declined to speak with the Times.
Gutierrez admitted a "factual basis" only for the Markel allegations. He later entered a diversion program on a misdemeanor charge of providing counseling without a license, and did community service at a Catholic church, court records show.
Now 65, Gutierrez has changed his name to Jesse Gutierrez-Cervantes and lives in a modular home near a Sonoma vineyard. He has led interfaith religious services and runs a consulting firm. The firm offers diversity training and boasts a long roster of corporate clients.
According to its Web site, Gutierrez "has worked extensively with Victims of Assault and Violence ... His training ... has prepared him to lead programs in Homophobia, Sexual Harassment, and Gender."
Friends say they can't reconcile the sexual abuse allegations with the warm and caring man they know and love, "Father Jesse," who officiates weddings, helps the needy and fights for social justice.
"He is truly a man of God," said Rev. Gwenievere Maria of the Center for Spiritual Healing who has known Gutierrez for 30 years. Maria says Gutierrez is the kind of man who comforted patients in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. "Everyone else was afraid because these people had sores, they were coughing," she said. "But he sat with them for hours."
Rev. Ruth Hoppe, an ordained intercultural minister in Sonoma, said she first met Gutierrez several years ago at an interfaith service that he led at Westerbeke Ranch, a Sonoma retreat. She said Gutierrez is an ordained Catholic priest not affiliated with the Roman Catholic church, and that he works tirelessly in the community.
"He is just a beautiful soul, a beautiful spirit," Hoppe said. "The man I know would never hurt anybody."
It was that warm, gentle manner which made Gutierrez dangerous, Barbour contends.
He said Gutierrez preyed on his vulnerability, the shame he felt from being molested as a boy. For months after that Boy Scout trip, Barbour would lick the floors and walk up hills on his knees, repenting to God for having been fondled and aroused by a scout leader, he said.
In high school, if he proved himself on the football field or with a girl, Barbour said he took it as God throwing him a tiny bone.
"My God was stingy and brutal and demanding," he said.
At the start of his senior year, a teacher asked the students to write about themselves in a journal. Barbour spilled his guts. The paper came back with bold red letters: "See me."
"You need to see Brother Joe," he recalled the teacher telling him. "He's a man who helped me and he will help you too."
At their first meeting, Barbour said he committed to a full regimen of therapy.
"Joe said, 'You have to promise me, if I'm going to take you on as a client, you're going to go all the way,'" said Barbour.
Week after week in Gutierrez's St. Mary's dorm room and the downstairs room in Walnut Creek, he eased Barbour into more intrusive massages, Barbour said. Early on, Lopes had come along and also began therapy sessions.
The two friends would compete for who was "advancing faster" in their therapy with Gutierrez, said Lopes. At the time, Gutierrez lived at the Walnut Creek house with some former students and the De La Salle teacher who recommended him. None of the known accusations allege sexual abuse by this teacher, so the Times is not naming him.
"At least one boy (Barbour) was directed to Joseph Gutierrez by (the teacher) from the school," wrote Kathy Sinsheimer, a child abuse treatment specialist, in a 1989 memorandum to state investigators. "It appears that more boys came through this connection as well. Boys brought other boys to (the home), which was also considered to be the treatment setting."
Therapy became less talk, more massage. Barbour said Gutierrez began touching his genitals.
"I loved talking about these things, but the massage always bugged me. It was outside my comfort zone. He said that's where the healing is."
This was the vanguard of psychology, Gutierrez explained, the breaking of cultural barriers to come closer to God.
He told the two friends that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained hidden passages stating that Jesus was bisexual and had sex with men. Only cultural restraints kept people from realizing their true bisexuality.
"He said it's God's way or your way," Barbour recalled.
Barbour laughs bitterly now, recalling how he told God he was going all the way. Barbour said Gutierrez began having sex with him and gave him hard drugs.
"He was stripping me of my masculinity," said Barbour, sobbing.
"He was taking away any boundary of respect of myself. I was gone."
Loaded on Quaaludes and amyl nitrate, a rush drug, Barbour said he remembered the two taking him downstairs to a bathhouse with "chains, harnesses, stuff on the wall." He was strapped in, he said. He must have passed out.
"I wake up and (the psychologist) is sodomizing me," he said. "After that, (Gutierrez) said, 'You've reached this part of mental health. I'm so proud of what you've done.' It was like my graduation."
Barbour grew more conflicted, and soon split with Brother Joe, he said.
Not until 1986, five years later, did Barbour tell his parents while he was packing up for college. Even then he briefly defended Gutierrez before filing his complaint with the state.
"I felt like I was being a Judas."
George Barbour, a former Marine, exploded at his son.
Lopes and Barbour met under the stars on a grassy hill at a Martinez park.
They squared off. "There was a line drawn in the sand. He was either a molester, or a savior who should be forgiven for the mistakes he's made along the way," said Barbour. "He's either Satan or a saint."
Lopes pleaded for Gutierrez.
"I looked at him and said, 'We had sex with him, and I continue to have sex with him because that's the right thing to do and because you know we want to be with him. We want to be more like Jesus,'" Lopes recalls saying. "I was in complete denial."
It was the final time the two friends spoke before last month.
George Barbour pushed police to investigate, and prosecutors to file
criminal charges. The statute of limitations, he was told, had run out.
Raised as a Catholic altar boy who attended church two or three times a week, Lopes said he was susceptible to Gutierrez.
"He just consumed us with love and affection. ... I was starving for attention."
During sex with Gutierrez, Lopes said he would lie rigid, imagining he was with a woman. His skin now rises in goosebumps, remembering how he has blacked out much of what happened to him, including Gutierrez giving him alcohol and Quaaludes and taking him to the San Francisco bathhouse.
"My body was speaking the truth: This is wrong, this is not right."
He said Gutierrez gave them other drugs as well -- pot, mushrooms, ecstasy -- to drown their inhibitions.
Gutierrez conjured a seductive blend of "Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Gutierrezism and sexuality," said Lopes.
"I literally had the thought in my mind that this guy was like the new Christ," he said.
Even before he left the order around 1985, Gutierrez was moving away from the Christian Brothers and found work at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont and elsewhere. The order was too "limiting," he told Lopes.
Gutierrez rotated between St. Mary's, Walnut Creek and a small cottage in Sonoma, identifying himself as a spiritual leader and teacher, said Lopes.
Until 1990, when he finally broke with Gutierrez during a mental breakdown, Lopes said he "could not get to the point that I saw what happened was molestation, that I was manipulated and I was coerced and that the web was cast when I was a minor."
A Harvard Medical School psychologist said this kind of abuse represents an even deeper betrayal because it involves an adult who is beyond reproach in the community.
"(Sexually abused children) lose their whole faith structure. They often lose their social structure," said Carolyn Newberger, who evaluated victims of priest sexual abuse in legal action against the Boston archdiocese. She said abuse by a therapist and a cleric is particularly egregious.
"You can't even count the layers of betrayal," she said.
His last sexual encounter with Gutierrez, while he was on the drug ecstasy, triggered a 12-year plunge into hysteria, panic and severe depression, Lopes claims. He found himself screaming and sobbing uncontrollably every day.
With no other target for his pain, he would punch himself in the face.
He entered a day treatment program at a Walnut Creek mental hospital. He couldn't sleep. He could barely get out of bed. He couldn't maintain relationships and sex led to uncontrollable heaving and convulsions. Once he held a gun in his hand, another time he placed a noose around his neck. Each time he managed to retreat from the brink and called for help.
"I thought it was God getting me because I had done something terribly wrong and I was going to be tortured to death," he said.
Years of therapy have helped him recover. But even now Lopes faces occasional bouts with his old demons. And he has lost his faith.
Lopes also says he has lost faith in the Christian Brothers. He says he agreed to his 2002 settlement because he felt guilty asking the Christian Brothers for money. He thought they didn't know about Gutierrez's alleged misconduct until 1986. With the revelation of the 1968 letter from the Provincial, he now feels deceived.
Barbour also blames the Christian Brothers for failing to follow up his 1986 allegations. "The school could have called (Lopes') parents up, said your son is hanging out with him," he said. "The school had a moral obligation to try."
George and Carmen Barbour said they went to meet with the order's leadership
back in January 1987, and were ushered away. "They were saying, 'That's
too bad, we can't do anything for you because Joe is not a brother anymore.
He left the order,'" said Carmen Barbour.
"The devastation it has caused to my son and his friend is astronomical," Judy Figgins said.
Today, the strains of the alleged abuse are etched on Lopes' face. They dwell in Barbour's stomach.
Clean-cut and lean, he suffers from severe bulimia, saying he vomits after most meals. It started when the clergy abuse scandal broke in Boston, he said. He would hear survivors name their alleged molesters on the radio. "I was hearing my own voice."
His move to the rural backwoods of northern Oregon also relates to his
abuse, he said, and his concern for his children's safety.
"We want to champion the boys that we were," said Lopes. "It was a dream that I had for years, that I gave up on."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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