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  Priest Has New Accuser

San Bernardino Sun (San Bernardino, CA)
April 29, 2002

A Roman Catholic priest who lived in Fontana and is charged with fondling two girls in Fontana is also under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct toward a woman in Gardena.

Gardena police said Friday that they received a complaint last week from a 32-year-old woman that the Rev. Honesto Bayrauta Bismonte committed sexual battery against her a decade ago at a Catholic church in Gardena.

Police Detective Russ Temple said he believes it is a coincidence that the woman's allegations came the same week that two teen-age sisters told authorities in San Bernardino County that the 72-year-old priest molested them in Fontana.

"Our victim reported the incident to a Los Angeles Police Department hotline prior to the case in Fontana,' Temple said. "It was just by the grace of God that it all came together like it did.'

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office charged Bismonte on Thursday with four felony counts of committing lewd acts with children stemming from the Fontana case.

Prosecutors allege that Bismonte, an assistant pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pomona, repeatedly fondled the breasts of two young girls at his Fontana home between 1997 and 2001.

Bismonte was arrested and jailed on the charges Tuesday.

He was released from San Bernardino County jail Thursday after posting $200,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned in Fontana Superior Court on June 6.

Philip Kassel, one of the lawyers representing Bismonte, said Friday that he had heard nothing about the accusation from the woman in Gardena.

However, Kassel said Bismonte has never behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner toward anyone.

"He denies any type of sexual misconduct with these people,' Kassel said. "The evidence will show that there was never any type of sexual misconduct. When the smoke clears in this case, you will see that this man never should have been arrested and never been accused. This is tragic.'

Fontana police have said that Bismonte wasn't working in his official capacity as a priest when the alleged incidents occurred in Fontana.

Temple said Friday that the woman in the Gardena case claimed her contact with Bismonte was church-related.

"This was through the church,' Temple said. "It wasn't a friendship. It was in an official capacity.'

According to the Web site of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Bismonte was an associate pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Gardena before arriving in Pomona.

Temple said he believed the woman in Gardena, now 32, was prompted to report her contact with Bismonte because of the recent national spotlight on sex scandals within the Catholic Church.

"It had just been bothering her and she came forward,' he said.

Temple would not say what the woman claimed Bismonte specifically did to her.

Gardena police finished their investigation and forwarded it on Wednesday to Fontana police for consideration in their case.

Fontana police declined to comment Friday on the Gardena case or on whether they had received information about it from Gardena police.

Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said Friday that he could not confirm if the church knew of the allegations from Gardena.

Tamberg said the church will not reveal Bismonte's ministerial history until the parishes he has served can be formally notified. He said that since Bismonte has been suspended, he presents no clear and present danger to the public.

Tamberg said the archdiocese's zero-tolerance policy in the cases of clergy sex offenders, enacted in the early 1990s, will help to ensure protection of parishioners.

"We are very concerned about the safety of our people, and our policies reflect that,' he said. "We need to let the police departments continue their investigations and we will cooperate with them.'

Prosecutors allege that the 13- and 17-year-old sisters in the Fontana case were fondled repeatedly from 1997 to 2001.

Their allegations surfaced last week after one of the girls contacted a cleric at a Riverside Catholic high school saying she was suicidal as a result of years of molestation by Bismonte.

The cleric then informed authorities of the accusations.

Police said the girls told them that Bismonte routinely pulled them onto his lap and fondled their breasts both over and under their shirts.

Kassel, however, said Friday that Bismonte's legal team has convincing evidence to prove that Bismonte is completely innocent.

He said the evidence will prove that Bismonte's accusers have a motive to lie.

He would not elaborate, saying that he prefers the evidence come out in court.

"This guy is going to be owed some big-time apologies when this whole thing is through,' Kassel said.

 
 

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