Sex Victim Who Quit Catholic Panel Explains
Man Who Was Molested by a Priest Cites Two Cases in Arguing That the Diocese of Orange Is Backing off from Its Zero-Tolerance Policy

By William Lobdell and Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times [California]
Downloaded July 24, 2003

A molestation victim said this week he resigned from a sexual abuse review board formed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange to protest what he called the church's failure to live up to its zero-tolerance policy.

The man, who had been sexually abused by a priest, cited two recent cases that came before the Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board. He contended that church officials ignored the letter or spirit of a 2001 declaration that the diocese would remove any employee clergy or lay deemed guilty by church officials of sexual abuse, even in cases decades old.

In one instance, a choir director convicted of lewd conduct with a minor 18 years ago was allowed to work at three parishes after church officials discovered the conviction this year. The former board member said church officials also allowed a cleric who admitted viewing child pornography on his computer to remain a priest in the diocese.

In response to a reporter's inquiry, diocesan officials said they told Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto on Monday about the choir director's abuse of a minor and the prelate ordered him fired Tuesday.

"I didn't see any other outcome possible," said Soto, adding that the termination was "important because it was becoming a public matter and we need to keep our credibility."

A church spokeswoman said neither Soto nor Bishop Tod D. Brown, who is on vacation, knew until this week that the director had pleaded guilty in 1985 to three felony counts of lewd conduct with a 16-year-old boy. At the time, he was 35 and married.

The conviction was uncovered in April because of now-mandatory fingerprinting of diocesan employees.

In his June resignation letter to the oversight board, the board member whose name is being withheld because The Times does not name victims of sexual abuse without their consent complained about the church's handling of the two cases: "As you are aware, I have expressed significant frustration and concern over the diocese's failure to take decisive and appropriate action with respect to certain cases reviewed by the board I feel my voice is being ignored."

But Soto said in a prepared statement Wednesday that the diocese "continues to enforce a zero-tolerance policy in cases of sexual misconduct with minors" and that church officials were pursuing a "deliberative process" interrupted by the former board member's disclosures about the cases.

Diocesan officials said the priest accused of viewing child pornography on his computer has been put on "restricted ministry" within the diocese, allowing no contact with minors, because church officials said the offense didn't fall under its zero-tolerance sexual abuse guidelines.

Board members were told, the former member said, that law enforcement authorities in Idaho, where the cleric had been sent because of a sexual transgression involving a woman, had investigated the child porn report and didn't file charges.

Church officials said that, contrary to the former board member's assertions, the child porn case was still under review, more information was being gathered and a final decision hasn't been made. The board's role is to review the diocese's most sensitive cases and make recommendations to the bishop for final action.

The resignation leaves the board with no one representing victims of sexually abusive priests. The board now has four independent lay members, a priest and a nun.

Last year, church officials appointed two victims of such abuse, after the church's national sex abuse scandal broke, to serve as victim advocates on the board.

The other victim on the board, Joelle Casteix, 32, resigned in December, calling it "a public-relations sham preoccupied with protecting the good names of the priests." Casteix said the handling of the two cases cited by the second victim advocate member to quit only confirmed what she saw while on the board.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.