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  No Grounds Found for Prosecuting Allegations of Abuse

By Alex Friedrich afriedrich@montereyherald.com
Monterey County Herald [Monterey CA]
Downloaded March 29, 2003

After looking into 40 years of sexual-abuse allegations against local Diocese of Monterey priests and employees, the Monterey County District Attorney's Office announced Thursday it has found no wrongdoing it can take to court.

None of the 12 sexual-abuse complaints that the diocese turned over last year could be prosecuted now, district attorney's representatives said Thursday.

Some of the cases, which stretch back as far as the 1960s, involve plaintiffs or priests who have died or can't be located. Other cases occurred outside of the district attorney's jurisdiction or lacked sufficient evidence.

The one case that could have been prosecuted, a 2000 incident involving a diocesan employee and a 10-year-old girl, already has been.

Unless fresh allegations arise, the finding could mark the end of criminal prosecution for the diocese's Monterey County churches. Civil lawsuits are still possible this year under recent legislation.

Prosecutors gave few details about the cases -- such as numbers of priests, victims or locations of the alleged abuse -- citing confidentiality concerns.

"Had (diocesan officials) not come forth, we wouldn't have any information," said Assistant District Attorney Charlie Keeley. "Because of that, we can't divulge any details."

Neither would she describe the severity of the accusations. Some alleged victims made vague accusations, she said, and others couldn't be found, "so we couldn't really draw any conclusions."

But Keeley did say most of the victims were minors, and that the range of accusations included "everything."

In June, the diocese turned over for review nine cases of alleged sexual abuse involving priests and church workers. Since then, the diocese has turned over three more. The District Attorney's Office also received anonymous phone calls, which officials there said they investigated.

Of the 12 cases, one case had already been prosecuted -- that of Edward Molina, a 22-year-old developmentally disabled employee of Madonna del Sasso Church in Salinas. In 2000 he pleaded guilty to lifting up the skirt of a 10-year-old girl.

He was sentenced to a month in jail and three years of probation. He also had to register as a sex offender.

Other cases stalled for several reasons:
  • Prosecutors have no jurisdiction. Two cases did not occur in Monterey County. One incident allegedly took place on the now-decommissioned Fort Ord, and so it is a federal case.
  • The alleged victim is dead.
  • The alleged abuser is dead.
  • The whereabouts of a victim is unknown. In several cases, victims failed to respond to prosecutors' letters. The notes advised them they must contact law enforcement officials to prosecute under the extended statute of limitations.
  • Lack of evidence. Keeley said prosecutors could not follow up on a Seaside case for lack of proof.
Anonymous phone calls appeared to help little.

"There were no dates, no times, no victims, no numbers to call back," Keeley said. "There was nothing we could do with those."

Prosecutors declined to press charges in two Monterey County cases reported in The Herald.

The 1969 seduction of 15-year-old Santa Catalina student Sarah Wilgress by a 40-year-old Massachusetts monk was deemed out of the district attorney's jurisdiction.

Neither did the dozen cases include an alleged 1999 incident at Sacred Heart School. In that case, parents of an 11-year-old girl accused the Rev. Paul Valdez of improperly touching her during confession.

A six-month police investigation that year and review by the Monterey County District Attorney's Office did not result in charges against the priest. When the case was reported in May 2002, district attorney's officials did not explain why they did not prosecute.

The parents later reached a settlement with the diocese.

In its faxed statement, the District Attorney's Office commended the diocese for its cooperation.

"The Diocese of Monterey has been extremely forthcoming and cooperative, and has complied with all our requests for information within the confines of its obligation to maintain confidentiality," it said.

The diocese has also discussed handing over complaint files to district attorneys from Santa Cruz, San Benito and San Luis Obispo counties, which are within its borders, said diocesan spokesman Kevin Drabinski.

"The Diocese of Monterey is cooperating fully," he said in a faxed statement. However, the diocese "will not be discussing publicly any cases or names of people involved out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved."

Keeley said those who believe they have been sexually abused by priests in the Diocese of Monterey should contact law enforcement officials. Prosecutors may still press charges in old cases, she said.

No priest in the Monterey diocese has been convicted of child molestation. A Herald review of 25 years of court records in the four counties of the diocese turned up lawsuits involving misconduct allegations against four priests, two involving minors.

In addition to the Sacred Heart case, a former church employee in Watsonville alleged in a wrongful-termination lawsuit that church officials had harassed her, and fired her, after she raised suspicions that an altar boy had been abused by a priest.

The two other priests, both assigned to Santa Cruz County at the time, were accused in a civil lawsuit of seducing an adult male parishioner. That lawsuit also was settled out of court.

After The Herald publicized those cases May 5, diocesan officials announced a number of revisions to their sexual-abuse policies. They said at the time, however, that they had no plans to open their records to law enforcement, partly to protect the confidentiality of the victims and the priests.

The Monterey diocese's decision to turn over documents came as district attorneys across the state, led by prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco, were demanding files from dioceses within their jurisdictions because of the flood of abuse allegations against priests nationwide.

 
 

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