Abuse Support Group Alarmed by Priests
7 Clerics Suspected of Molestation Live at Rockridge Priory
By Kelly St. John
San Francisco Chronicle [Oakland CA]
November 30, 2004
A support group for victims of clergy molestation called on Oakland city officials Monday to investigate a Roman Catholic seminary that is housing seven priests suspected of sexually abusing children across the Western United States.
None of the men -- who have been living at St. Albert's Priory near two public schools in the city's Rockridge district for two to 10 years -- has been convicted of sex crimes or are registered sex offenders.
But officials with the Dominican Order of Catholic Priests acknowledge that all had allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against them from five to 45 years ago, and that the accusations were credible enough for the church to pay for counseling for their victims.
"None of the men in question are in public ministry," the Rev. Roberto Corral, head of the Western Dominican Province, said in a statement released Monday. "Nor do they have contact with children or young people. They receive psychological care and are under supervision.
"We take very seriously our obligation to protect the public by keeping these men close so we can supervise and support them," Corral said.
In all seven cases, the church reported the abuse to police in the jurisdiction where it took place, but the men were not prosecuted, whether it was because the allegation could not be proven or victims did not want to press charges, said Carla Hass, spokeswoman for the Western Dominican Province. All of the victims were older adolescents, both male and female, she said.
The church has also placed tight restrictions on the men, including requiring the priest accused of abuse in 1999 to sign in and out and have someone accompany him whenever he leaves the grounds, Hass said.
"It's not the picture that a lot of people might have in their heads, that these men are skulking around unsupervised and unattended," Hass said. "They all receive psychological care and have been reported to authorities."
She also emphasized that there have been no allegations of misconduct since the men moved to Oakland, and said the church notified surrounding neighbors six months ago that the priests were there without prompting any complaints.
Members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said that church officials should not be trusted to police their own and warned that the officials put the community's children at risk without warning neighbors when the priests moved in years ago.
St. Albert's seminary is on the same block as Claremont Middle School and a few blocks from Chabot Elementary School.
"Perhaps these guys are all reformed, but my experience is they don't get reformed. Pedophilia can't be cured," said Dan McNevin, SNAP's East Bay coordinator. "Living a block from a school, it's a perfect storm of circumstances for more abuse to occur. That's why we're asking (Oakland Mayor) Jerry Brown to investigate."
McNevin added that claims that there have been no new victims in recent years could be unfounded because it usually takes decades for victims of clergy abuse to come forward.
"I'm worried that they have already struck," said McNevin, noting that the men still attend religious services with the public.
City Councilwoman Jane Brunner, who represents the Rockridge neighborhood, said Monday she has placed a call to the Western Dominican Province about setting up a town hall meeting between church officials and the priory's neighbors.
"I was extremely surprised to learn about this, and I assume neighbors in the area will be very concerned," Brunner said. "I don't believe that Rockridge should be an area where people are coming from another state if they have been accused of sexual assault. We need to know what is real and what is not real."
Gil Duran, a spokesman for Brown, said the mayor supports Brunner's efforts to set up a meeting between the church and the community.
McNevin also criticized the Catholic Diocese of Oakland and its leader --
Bishop Allen Vigneron -- for allowing the priests' to be housed at St. Albert's Priory on Birch Court.
Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the diocese, said Monday that while the Dominicans do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Oakland, they alerted the bishop that they would be housing priests accused of sex abuse at the Oakland seminary.
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