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  Diocese Accused of Ignoring Victims
Sex Abuse: Church Officials Defend Response to Admitted Molestations by a Former Inland Priest

By Michael Fisher
The Press-Enterprise [San Diego CA]
April 1, 2004

SAN DIEGO - Advocates for victims of sexual abuse accused Catholic leaders of failing to identify and help boys allegedly molested by the Rev. Edward Anthony Rodrigue, who has told authorities that he abused dozens of children during his 22 years in the San Bernardino and San Diego dioceses.

"There are hundreds of families out there in both of the dioceses who have been affected by this man and they are still the responsibility of the church," said Margaret Schettler, choking back tears as she stood with Rodrigue's brother and other victims' advocates outside the Diocese of San Diego's Pastoral Center on Wednesday.

At least 15 men sued the dioceses of San Diego and San Bernardino last year, charging that church leaders failed to protect them from Rodrigue, whom they accuse of sexually abusing them as young boys between 1967 and 1979. Rodrigue, known as Father Tony, worked at churches in Ontario, Loma Linda, Coachella and elsewhere.

Rodrigio Valdivia, chancellor and spokesman for the San Diego Diocese, denied the advocates' accusations. He said the diocese has brochures available at all its churches instructing victims on how to report sexual abuse, and its biweekly newspaper has included information on how to report abuse.

"We've repeatedly announced both in diocesan publications and materials and in the public news media that we are open to addressing all cases regardless of their status in litigation with victims. ... We remain open to dealing with anyone who steps forward with a claim," Valdivia said. The San Diego diocese managed the Inland parishes until 1978, when the Diocese of San Bernardino was created to run churches in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Inland diocese response

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the million-member Diocese of San Bernardino, said his diocese has pro-actively sought to identify and aid Rodrigue's victims.

On selected weekends last year, Bishop Gerald Barnes had announcements read at the weekend masses at all the Inland churches where Rodrigue had once worked - Our Lady of Soledad in Coachella, St. George's in Ontario, St. Joseph the Worker in Loma Linda and St. Joseph's in Barstow. Those statements encouraged anyone sexually abused by Rodrigue or any other church worker to contact authorities or the diocese, Lincoln said.

"We feel that we have been very fair, just and aggressive in reaching out to potential victims of Tony Rodrigue," Lincoln said by telephone.

Rodrigue, 67, could not be reached for comment. Laicized in 1992, Rodrigue is in state prison in central California, serving a 10-year sentence after he pleaded no contest in 1998 to molesting a developmentally disabled 11-year-old Highland boy. Earlier this year he declined to be interviewed.

Rodrigue told investigators that he molested five or six boys annually as a priest, according to a copy of a 1997 San Bernardino County sheriff's report outlining Rodrigue 's responses to a polygraph test.

Accusers' charges

His accusers, former altar boys, claim diocesan leaders shuffled Rodrigue among churches and psychological treatment centers, even after Rodrigue pleaded no contest in 1979 to misdemeanor child-molestation charges.

Following a noontime news conference Wednesday, Jaime Romo with the San Diego Chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nationwide victims advocacy and self-help group, attempted to give San Diego's Bishop Robert Brom a letter which, among other things, requested Brom visit every parish where Rodrigue had worked to encourage victims and witnesses to come forward.

After a receptionist said Brom was not in, Romo and a handful of supporters waited 20 minutes in the lobby for another diocese official to accept the letter.

They left about 1:30 p.m. when no one came forward, opting not to leave the letter with the receptionist.

Validiva said he and other church leaders were at lunch. He said he could not comment on the requests in the letter.

At the half-hour news conference, Rodrigue's brother, Tom, offered to drive from his home in Reno to San Diego to appear with Brom at churches.

"I believe Jesus would use the powers of the church to find every last victim of my brother and other pedophiles," said Tom Rodrigue, 65, a retired supervisor with the California Franchise Tax Board.

Schettler said she met Father Tony when she volunteered at Our Lady of Soledad in Coachella in 1976. The Encino woman said that as the clergy sexual abuse unfolded nationwide during the past two years, she wondered what became of Father Tony.

Schettler said her inquiries to the San Bernardino diocese were largely rebuffed, with church officials saying they did not know whom she was talking about.

The diocese only made announcements in Rodrigue's former churches after she began speaking to the media, she said.

Lincoln said diocese officials exchanged numerous letters with Schettler and spoke with her on the telephone, going as far as to send Monsignor Gerard M. Lopez, the diocese's vicars general, on a 160-mile roundtrip to Our Lady of Soledad in Coachella to check the parish records.

 
 

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