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  58 Sexual-Abuse Counts Filed against Former Inland Priest

By Michael Fisher
The Press-Enterprise [California]
February 2, 2005

Prosecutors have filed 58 sexual-abuse charges against a defrocked Inland priest accused of molesting two teenage boys at churches in Perris and Coachella during the late 1980s.

Jesús Armando Dominguez, the onetime personal aide to Bishop Phillip F. Straling, the former head of the San Bernardino Diocese, faces more than 43 years in prison if convicted of the charges of unlawful oral copulation, sexual penetration and sodomy, Riverside County prosecutors said.

Dominguez, a 55-year-old registered sex offender, could not be located for comment Tuesday. Prosecutors, who say they are wrangling with diocesan lawyers to unseal Dominguez's personnel file, have secured a $500,000 arrest warrant for the former priest, but they suspect he has fled to Mexico.

Dominguez, known in his days of ministry in the Inland diocese as Father Jesse, is accused of abusing the boys in 1988 and 1989 at Our Lady of Soledad Church in Coachella and St. James Church in Perris.

"The acts set forth (in the charges) are reprehensible conduct," said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the million-member San Bernardino Diocese. "Our deepest sympathies go out to any victims."

Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, the Inland diocese's current leader, has ordered a letter be read at Masses this weekend in all parishes where Dominguez worked during his 15 years in the diocese. The letter will alert congregations in Chino, Coachella, Corona and Perris to the charges and urge any victims or witnesses to contact authorities, Lincoln said.

Files Seized

On Jan. 25, authorities served a search warrant on the diocese's San Bernardino offices and seized Dominguez's personnel file. But they have yet to examine the records which were sealed pending a ruling by a Riverside County Superior Court judge. Investigators did not request the file before serving the warrant.

"We are now in pending litigation with the Catholic Church to have those files unsealed," Deputy District Attorney Morgan Gire said, adding that the diocese has "not released anything to us."

Lincoln declined to say whether or why the diocese wants the records sealed, saying only that the diocese always cooperates with the district attorney's offices in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

"Given our complete cooperation in the past, we were disappointed that the district attorney's office felt a search warrant was needed," he added.

Last week, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles stopped the release of priest records after the Los Angeles Archdiocese appealed a lower court's decision that unsealed the files. Attorneys for the archdiocese have argued that those documents are protected by the U.S. Constitution and state laws.

Lincoln said a review Tuesday of Dominguez 's personnel file revealed a handwritten note from October 1991 describing a possible allegation of sexual abuse against Dominguez while he was in Coachella. The two-sentence note does not name any purported victims and it is unknown what, if anything, diocesan officials at the time did with the information, he said.

The note is the only document in the file accusing Dominguez of sexual misconduct, said Lincoln. It was unclear who gave the diocese the note.

Legal Action

Last month, six men sued the San Bernardino Diocese and the Los Angeles Archdiocese, claiming Dominguez molested them in the 1970s and '80s. Accusations from two of the men mirror the criminal charges.

One of those accusers, now 33, alleges Dominguez sexually abused him between 1984 and 1988 at the Coachella church, according to the lawsuit. The accuser was an altar boy.

The abuse occurred in Dominguez 's rectory room and continued after the priest was assigned to St. James, according to the lawsuit.

While working in Coachella, Dominguez had "heated arguments" with his pastor regarding Dominguez taking boys to his room, according to the lawsuit.

In another lawsuit, Dominguez's second accuser, now 34, accuses the priest of sexually abusing him when he too was an altar boy at the Coachella church between 1985 and 1988. The accuser's brother also claims the priest abused him between 1985 and 1986.

The statute of limitations prevents prosecutors from filing charges for any alleged molestations that occurred before 1988, Gire said.

Katherine Freberg, the attorney representing the six men, did not return telephone messages Tuesday.

Dominguez's last known address is in Whittier.

Prosecutor have asked anyone with information about Dominguez's whereabouts or the accusations against him to contact Riverside County sheriff's Detective John Wyatt at (951) 940-6229 or Gire at (951) 955-9906.

Personal Aide

Dominguez came to the San Bernardino Diocese in 1978 when Straling appointed him as his personal assistant, a job he held for two years.

At the time, Dominguez told The Press -Enterprise that he was surprised by the appointment because he hardly knew Straling.

Straling, now bishop of the Diocese of Reno, Nev., said last month that he was unaware of any past allegations against Dominguez.

Straling could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Diocesan records show Dominguez, a religious brother, was ordained a priest in 1983 and assigned to St. Edward Church in Corona.

He was the subject of a stigmata investigation the next year after blood reportedly appeared on his hands and on consecrated bread during a Mass at the church.

A diocesan commission later deemed the incident to be "psycho-physiological," and neither miraculous nor supernatural.

In July 1993, Straling put Dominguez on a leave of absence.

In 2000, Dominguez was voluntarily removed from the priesthood.

In 2001, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor child-molestation charge in Downey, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Prosecutors were unsure whether the 58 charges against Dominguez marked a record for an Inland priest.

In 2001, the Rev. Edward Ball, a priest who formerly served at Our Lady of the Assumption and Our Lady of Fatima churches, both in San Bernardino, was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded no contest to 31 felony counts of repeatedly molesting two brothers more than two decades earlier.

David Clohessey, executive director of the national support group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he knows of few priests across the country who have faced as many charges as Dominguez.

 
 

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