Too Much Tolerance?
[See also Brooks Egerton's Priest
Accused of Rapes Finds Prominence about Rev. Cristobal Garcia and
U.S. Bishops' Abuse Policy by Crossing River about Msgr. Ivan Rovira.]
The U.S. church's sex-abuse reforms prevented the Rev. Manuel Fernández from keeping his high-profile job at the cathedral in Trenton, N.J., and running the diocese's ethnic ministries program. But they didn't stop him from relocating to his native Spain and leading a parish.
He remains a member of the Trenton Diocese. Officials there won't discuss his continued ministry or whether they told the Spanish church about allegations he had inappropriately touched a teenage girl decades ago. Those complaints had led to his 2002 removal.
Monsignor Fernández said in a phone interview that he left for the Diocese of Ourense, Spain, to live out his retirement. He denied that he was accused in Trenton, even though the diocese continues to publish on its Web site a news release about his case.
Ourense Bishop Luis Quinteiro refused to answer written questions about Monsignor Fernández. "I am unaware of what right you have to send me these questions," he replied.
The Diocese of Jackson, Miss., says it is living up to the U.S. church's "zero tolerance" policy. But Bishop Joseph Latino won't discuss how the Rev. Paul Madden, despite admitting abuse of a 13-year-old boy in the 1970s, has stayed in ministry.
Father Madden had worked as a missionary in South America for many years when the Jackson Diocese, in late 2003, let him become a full-fledged member of Peru's Diocese of Chimbote – a move that put him beyond the reach of the new policy.
The Peruvian leader who worked the longest with Father Madden, Bishop Luis Armando Bambarén, said he accepted him because he thought the accuser had recanted. The bishop would not elaborate. The victim received a settlement payment and did not recant, his family said.
The Boston-based Society of St. James the Apostle, which once listed Father Madden as a member and used to operate the parish where he is stationed, did not return messages.
Father Madden said in a recent phone call that he had lost his voice and could not be interviewed. He is undergoing vocal cord therapy in Europe, Chimbote officials said.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony barred the Rev. Carl Tresler from ministry in the late 1990s after a teenage boy accused the priest of abuse. Father Tresler denied the allegation and moved to Huancavelica, in the mountains of Peru, where he is a pastor, seminary boss and diocesan administrator.
Cardinal Mahony has written the bishop there and the Vatican warning "that Father Tresler should not be permitted to function as a priest anywhere," according to a Los Angeles Archdiocese report. But it's done no good.
Vatican officials did not respond to requests for comment. Huancavelica Bishop William Molloy, formerly a priest in Alabama, recently suffered a stroke and was unavailable for comment. Bishop Isidro Barrio, who is currently running his diocese, could not be reached.
Cardinal Mahony initially allowed Father Tresler to join the Peruvian diocese. The priest said he was unfairly targeted only later, after the cardinal was criticized for handling other allegations.
Father Tresler said the cardinal's letters to the bishop and the Vatican have gotten no results because he hasn't been believed. "I don't think [Cardinal Mahony] lives in reality," he said.
A spokesman said the cardinal, if he had it to do over again, would ask the Vatican to expel Father Tresler from the priesthood. But now he lacks the standing to ask, the spokesman said.
The Sacramento, Calif., Diocese warned Mexican bishops over a decade ago about substantiated abuse allegations against two of its priests, who fled California criminal cases. Yet the men are pastors in their native Mexico today – and still fugitives.
One is the Rev. José Luis Urbina, who jumped bail in 1989 after being convicted of molesting a teenage boy and before he could be sentenced. He admitted guilt in court and in a recent phone interview from his church, in the northwestern Mexico city of Navojoa.
His longtime boss there, Ciudad Obregón Bishop Vicente García, said he was unaware of the conviction and thought "this was something where the statute of limitations had run out." Church records show that Sacramento told Bishop García about the conviction in writing and sent someone to tell him in person.
Father Urbina said that he told the bishop "everything that had happened" and that he had successfully undergone psychotherapy in California.
The second fugitive, the Rev. Gerardo Beltrán, went to Mexico in December 1991 as Sacramento police began investigating abuse allegations against him. He soon was charged with fondling two young girls.
Father Beltrán now is a pastor in the village of Igualita, in a remote part of southern Mexico. He declined to comment. His boss for the last seven years, Tlapa Bishop Alejo Zavala, said he was unaware of the criminal case; a bishop who previously supervised Father Beltrán in another Mexican diocese has died.
Both priests have refused church orders to return and are dangerous, a spokesman for Sacramento Bishop William Weigand said. In a pending lawsuit, Father Urbina is accused of threatening his victim with a gun.
The spokesman said Sacramento has no record of allowing the priests to
join their new dioceses. He said the bishop has not asked the Vatican
to expel them from the priesthood. Prosecutors have not sought to get
either fugitive returned to California, citing poor extradition relations
between the United States and Mexico.
When the U.S. church toughened its abuse policies, Juneau, Alaska, Bishop Michael Warfel announced that he was banning the Rev. Javier Gutiérrez from ministry because of sexual misconduct with girls in the 1980s. But the priest has stayed on duty in Tijuana, Mexico, where he'd been sent on loan soon after the abuse.
An aide to Bishop Warfel said his 2002 announcement "turned out to be inaccurate" because by then Tijuana had made Father Gutiérrez a full-fledged member of that diocese. Tijuana Bishop Rafael Romo declined to be interviewed and did not respond to written questions.
Father Gutiérrez told The Dallas Morning News he had
abused no one and wouldn't have been accepted in Tijuana if he had. He
has previously been quoted as saying, "I had hoped that since I went
for rehab and because I left the United States, people would say, 'Well,
he has paid enough for what he did.' "
He had lost his priestly authority after fleeing North Dakota police in 2000 and could not minister anywhere, declared Fargo's new bishop, who vowed to get tough with abusers. In fact, the fugitive has since found work in three overseas dioceses – including one in Australia led by a reform-minded leader.
First came Melbourne, which says the Rev. Abraham Anthony's home bishop in India didn't disclose that the priest was wanted on charges he abused three boys in the U.S. It soon dismissed him over "theological differences," a church leader said.
Next was Darwin, whose bishop served on an Australian panel studying how to prevent abuse. Without doing a background check, he let Father Anthony take a group of children to World Youth Day in Canada in 2002.
"When a bloke's supposed to be healing people and wants to come in and help – and he's worked in one diocese already – you sort of don't ask too many questions," Bishop Edmund Collins said.
Father Anthony now works at a parish in southern India's Vellore Diocese, where he grew up. He denied the criminal charges and told a reporter that he fled Fargo under pressure from its former bishop, who church officials said is too ill with Alzheimer's disease to be interviewed. Current Fargo Bishop Samuel Aquila declined to be interviewed about the priest.
Vellore Bishop A. Malayappan Chinnappa said he was unaware of the U.S. charges. The priest formally belongs to the Diocese of Simla-Chandigarh, whose bishop could not be reached for comment.
Many Canadian bishops have had "zero tolerance" rules in place since the 1990s, well before U.S. bishops adopted their policy in 2002. The Canadians say they demand detailed background information from all job applicants and reject anyone who's been accused of abuse.
So why did the Montreal Archdiocese hire the Rev. Jean-Level Eliscard in 2003? The Haitian priest had been convicted in 1995 and sentenced to probation for sexually abusing a 13-year-old parishioner in New Jersey. The case drew heavy regional news coverage at the time because of its sensational details: The victim's father had caught Father Eliscard on top of the crying girl, with her hands pinned and dress pulled up. While under criminal investigation, the priest tried to flee to Haiti but was arrested at a New York airport.
A spokesman for Montreal's cardinal said Father Eliscard was accepted on the recommendation of Bishop Jean Alix Verrier, who heads the priest's home Diocese of Les Cayes, Haiti. Bishop Verrier did not disclose that Father Eliscard had even worked in the United States, according to Montreal and a neighboring diocese where the abuser also worked. Bishop Verrier could not be reached for comment.
Father Eliscard was working as a hospital chaplain when The Dallas Morning News located him late last year. He declined to comment. The cardinal removed him from duty shortly after inquiries from the newspaper.
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