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  Some Upset Diocese Won't ID Priests
Catholics Split on Abuse Report in Advance of Feb. 27 Release of Results of National Survey

By Guy Kovner
The Press Democrat [Santa Rosa CA]
January 19, 2004

For some North Coast Catholics, the Santa Rosa Diocese is clouding its efforts to heal old wounds and prevent future crimes by keeping secret the names of nine of 16 priests accused of sexual misconduct.

They question whether the diocese is fulfilling the spirit of the Catholic Church's commitment to "transparency and openness," espoused by the U.S. bishops and incorporated in their national policy on sexual misconduct. Last month, the Orange County bishop released the names of accused abusers.

"In the spirit of openness, we shouldn't be hiding anything," said Nicole Rochelle of Santa Rosa, a member of St. Eugene's Parish. "People have a right to know."

Others in the pews give Bishop Daniel Walsh and the diocese credit for responding to a 40-year history of child abuse, cover-up and denial that tormented individuals, families and parishes.

Walsh appointed an abuse victim's father to the panel that addresses complaints against priests. He also instructed the church's Sensitive Issues Committee to review old cases and turn any findings over to the district attorney for review.

"I admire what they've done so far," said Nancy Murray, of St. Leo's Parish of Boyes Hot Springs, approving of the recent fingerprinting of priests and all other church employees and volunteers, a step that ruffled some traditional Catholic sensibilities.

"I think they have to do it in this situation," Murray said.

Even some who compliment Walsh for making positive changes since his arrival in spring 2000 say the continued secrecy is an impediment to restoring trust among the diocese's 150,000 Catholics from Petaluma to the Oregon border.

The reflections come as the American Catholic Church, the nation's largest with 65 million members, is in the midst of an unprecedented self-assessment.

A church-commissioned audit released two weeks ago found that most of the nation's 195 dioceses, including Santa Rosa, have implemented the policy adopted by the bishops at their conference in Dallas in June 2002.

Set for release Feb. 27 are the results of another national survey, tallying for the first time the number of child-molesting priests, victims and the dollars paid by the church in legal settlements.

The North Coast diocese, founded in 1962, provided information to the survey about 16 accused priests, 59 victims and $8.6 million in costs -- all larger numbers than had previously been disclosed.

Seven accused priests have been identified by victims in public disclosures, lawsuits and prosecutions. No others have been identified by the diocese, which, prior to Walsh's arrival, had a history of shielding molesters from the law and the public.

The late Mark Hurley, whose 18-year tenure as bishop from 1969 to 1987 was marked by molestations by priests from Santa Rosa to Eureka, declared he had never called the police.

"I think there's a danger in that and therefore, I have never reported anything on anybody to the police," Hurley said in a 1995 deposition.

Hurley also testified that he had torn up all confidential personnel records before resigning in 1987. He died in 2001.

His successor, John Stein-bock, testified in court in 2002 that he had tried to reassign, rather than fire, former priest Don Kimball in 1990 after Kimball admitted to fondling six girls. "You try to save a person's priesthood if possible," Steinbock testified.

Steinbock is now bishop in Fresno. Kimball's child molestation conviction was overturned last year after the U.S. Supreme Court barred prosecution of decades-old offenses.

Kimball, a charismatic youth minister in the 1970s and '80s, has been defrocked. The diocese settled a lawsuit against him for $1.6 million in 2000, and at least four of the 12 lawsuits currently pending against the diocese allege crimes by Kimball.

In disclosing four more accused priests, bringing the total to 16, Bishop Walsh reiterated his concern for the priests' privacy as the reason to withhold their names.

Walsh would not respond to requests for interviews last week. At his Santa Rosa office last Friday, the receptionist said Walsh was in a meeting and not available for an interview.

Tricia Shingledecker, a mother of three children who attended Catholic schools, said she is comfortable with the direction of the diocese.

Naming priests accused of decades-old crimes would be "too painful," she said, to both priests and victims.

A member of St. John's Parish in Healdsburg and an attorney, Shingledecker said the relatively low number of lawsuits filed recently against the diocese suggests that abuse victims have been fairly treated.

"At least on the surface it appears to be working," she said. "Time will tell."

But concerns remain for many parishioners.

Protecting accused priests "leaves people wondering" what might have happened in their parishes, said Rochelle, a single mother who serves as a cantor at Cathedral of St. Eugene in Santa Rosa.

Victims and their advocates are especially strong in their criticism.

"They say trust us," said Don Hoard of Petaluma, a sex-abuse victims advocate. "But why should you trust them? In this diocese it's been proven over and over again that they lied."

Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore won praise from a national victims organization in 2002 for releasing the names of more than 50 priests accused of sexual abuse. "The victims have taken priority here," Auxiliary Bishop W. Francis Malooly said.

Orange County Bishop Tod D. Brown named 15 accused priests a week ago, including four whom had not been previously identified.

"I think the people in the community have a right to know who they are," said Neil Brem of Windsor, a Kimball victim.

Brem said he quit both the church and the diocese's Committee for Prevention and Education of Sexual Misconduct, in place before the Bishops' Conference, in frustration.

"I began to feel it was more of a public relations campaign for them than a real, honest effort to deal with the problem," he said.

But Bob McKeever of Rohnert Park said his appointment by Walsh last year to the diocese's expanded review board puts him, as the father of an abuse victim, in a position to make a difference.

"I focus on the caring and the healing of survivors," McKeever said. "Loud and clear, that's always my theme."

No new abuse allegations have come up, and the board has helped craft sexual misconduct policies, he said. The work is beneficial to him, as well as victims.

"If what I say makes a difference, then I really feel good about it," McKeever said.

The official audit of the Santa Rosa diocese recommended more Spanish language materials for the sex-abuse education program, a point diocese officials said had been addressed.

But Salvador Sahagun of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Windsor, which has one of the diocese's largest Latino congregations, said he has seen no outreach in Spanish.

"We read about it (sex abuse) in the newspaper; why don't we talk about it at church?" he said.

Latinos tend to put Catholic priests on a pedestal, but the scandal has shaken their faith, he said. "They don't trust priests as much as they used to," Sahagun said.

An open forum, conducted in Spanish and giving parishioners a chance to ask questions, could help close the gap, he said.

Walsh should communicate with the public, rather than leaving a spokesperson and an attorney to speak for the church, Rochelle said.

In small, informal meetings, Walsh is charming and intelligent, flashing his wit and personal devotion to St. Francis. "He has a lot to share," Rochelle said. "I think it's a hard thing for him to do."

WHAT WE KNOW

Sixteen priests in the Santa Rosa Diocese have been accused of sexual misconduct since 1962. Seven have been publicly identified.

Gary Timmons -- Ran Catholic youth camp in Mendocino County. Convicted of child molestation in 1996, served four years in prison, released in 2000. Defrocked, he is a registered sex offender.

Don Kimball -- Charismatic youth minister in 1970s and '80s now defrocked. Child molestation conviction overturned last year following Supreme Court ruling. Diocese paid $1.6 million to settle lawsuit by four victims.

Austin Peter Keegan -- Accused of molesting boys as many as 50 times in Santa Rosa. Fired in 1982, he later turned up working as priest in Mexico. Arrested last year, he faced 102 counts of child molestation in San Francisco but was freed after Supreme Court ruling. Defrocked.

The Rev. Vincent O'Neill -- Accused of molesting five former altar boys in late 1970s, removed from Windsor church. Diocese settled victims' claims for undisclosed amount in 1997. Died of brain tumor in 1998.

The Rev. John Rogers -- Accused of molesting boy in Eureka church rectory in 1976. Committed suicide in 1995 when ordered to return from Belgium for psychiatric evaluation.

The Rev. Anthony Ross -- Accused in 2002 of molesting boy in Joliet, Ill. in 1981; suspended from diocese's jail ministry program. Vatican reviewing case.

The Rev. Patrick Gleeson -- Accused in 2002 of molesting altar boy in Calistoga from 1968-72; died in 1991.

Six unidentified priests were reported by the diocese to the Sonoma County district attorney in 2002. Criminal prosecution was barred by Supreme Court last year.

Four former visiting priests were included in the diocese's report for a national survey on the extent of the sex abuse scandal: a Latin American priest, now assigned to a Washington, D.C., archdiocese, whereabouts unknown; an Irish priest who has left the priesthood; a priest from Sri Lanka, now deceased; and Gleeson.
 
 
 

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