Priest Pleads to Lesser Charge
Pomona Pastor Had Faced Felony Molestation Counts
By Will Matthews
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)
September 6, 2003
FONTANA - A Pomona priest pleaded guilty Friday to misdemeanor battery, 16 months after he was arrested on suspicion of repeatedly molesting two young girls.
The Rev. Honesto Bismonte, former assistant pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pomona, was facing four felony counts of performing lewd acts on a child.
But in a deal reached Friday with prosecutors, Bismonte agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve two years of informal probation, pay a $380 fine and pay $110 in restitution to the victims.
"The District Attorney in this case is a very able District Attorney and recognized that there was no case here," said attorney Philip Kassel, who represented Bismonte. "She did the just and right thing by dismissing it. It is important that the public have a chance to know how this case came out. We are publicly saying to the public that this guy is innocent."
Deputy District Attorney Briye McCann said Friday she has no reason to doubt the testimony of the two young girls, now ages 18 and 14, that Bismonte began molesting them when they were 12 and eight, respectively.
But, McCann said, the facts of the case would have been difficult to prove in trial.
McCann also said that avoiding a trial is in the best interest of the two girls.
"Part of my job is that I am supposed to ensure that these kids are not able to be harmed again," she said. "I didn't want them to be subjected to people questioning the validity of what they were saying or calling them liars as would have invariably happened during a trial. We believe what they were saying or we would not have brought the charges that we did. But having to hear things like that could have a significant psychological impact on the girls and that is not something that anybody wants."
The girls, who are sisters, came forward in April 2002 alleging that Bismonte had been molesting them for several years.
The sisters told investigators that Bismonte, who lived with their aunt in a Fontana apartment, groped and fondled them when they visited, according to a Fontana police detective who testified during Bismonte's preliminary hearing last April.
One girl claimed Bismonte fondled her over her clothes.
The other girl claimed the priest once reached beneath her shirt and fondled her bare skin.
But Kassel has argued from the outset that the girls fabricated their stories.
The accusations were made at the height of the child sexual abuse scandal that wracked the Catholic Church during 2002, and just months before a meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops in Dallas to address the scandal.
Kassel said Friday the girls were attempting to capitalize on the nation's scrutiny of Catholic priests by raising their allegations.
"It is like winning the lottery," he said. "You make an allegation against a clergyman and the church invariably will come to you, pay you off and try to hush it up."
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