Former Priest in Seminary Molestation Case Commits Suicide

Associated Press, Los Angeles Times
November 11, 1994

A former Santa Barbara priest who had pleaded no contest to molesting a boy hanged himself in his Albuquerque, N.M., apartment shortly after completing his probation, police said.

Philip Wolfe had spoken of suicide shortly before his death, which came less than a month after his probation ended, the News-Press of Santa Barbara reported Thursday.

Two of Wolfe's friends found his body Sunday evening after he failed to arrive for dinner as scheduled, Albuquerque police spokeswoman Mary Molina Mescall said late Wednesday. No note was found.

The Office of the Medical Investigator of New Mexico ruled Wolfe's death a suicide.

In 1989, Wolfe, 40, pleaded no contest to engaging in oral sex with a minor. He was sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation.

Wolfe had been a boys choir leader and teacher at St. Anthony's Seminary. His conviction triggered investigations and church admissions of decades of sexual abuse of children by a dozen priests at the seminary.

The boarding school, which was run by the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church, was closed for financial reasons in 1987 after 89 years of operation.

Altogether, 12 people were accused of participating in sex acts or questionable behavior with 34 boys who attended the seminary from 1964 to 1987. The Franciscan order defrocked Wolfe after his conviction.

In August, the leader of the choir, the Rev. Robert Van Handel, was sentenced to the maximum eight years in prison after pleading guilty to lewd and lascivious behavior with a 14-year-old boy.

Wolfe also had faced a pending civil lawsuit brought by two former students at St. Anthony's. The lawsuit also names Van Handel and the Franciscan order.

The father of the former students, Paul Smith, expressed dismay at the suicide.

"We don't believe in suicide as a way to handle these things, and are very sorry he took that route," Smith said.


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