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  St. Josephs Priest Resigns Amid Sex Allegations

By Matthew Artz
Berkeley Daily Planet [Berkeley CA]
February 8, 2005

Father George Crespin abruptly retired from his post as pastor of Berkeleys St. Joseph The Worker parish last week amid an accusation that he sexually abused a parishioner 30 years ago.

In a letter read by priests to parishoners Sunday, Crespin denied the charge and questioned the motives of his accuser.

"Since I know the person making this accusation, I am firmly convinced that this is being done to get money from the church," he wrote.

Crespin was out of town for an uncles funeral and could not be reached for comment.

The Diocese of Oakland, which includes Berkeley, refused to disclose the accusers gender or specifics about the allegations other than that they were sexual in nature. Diocese officials were also unable to answer which church Crespin was assigned to when the alleged misconduct occurred. Crespin joined St. Josephs in 1980, six years after the alleged incident.

Father Jayson Landeza, pastor of St. Columbas Church in Oakland, has been named to run St. Josephs until church officials find a new pastor, said Father Mark Wiesner, spokesperson for the Oakland diocese.

Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron determined last week that the charge against Crespin was "credible," Wiesner said. In such cases, diocese policy calls for the accused priest to be placed on administrative leave while the diocese conducts an investigation.

Wiesner said the diocese had reported the allegation to law enforcement, but didnt expect Crespin to face charges or a lawsuit because the statue of limitations had expired.

In his letter, Crespin, 69, an ordained priest since 1962, said he had planned to retire within the next two years and chose to do so immediately to spare parishioners a prolonged controversy.

"I do not want to put the parish or myself through a possibly long protracted process...," he wrote.

News of Crespins retirement stunned St. Josephs 1,600-household congregation.

"We were all in disbelief," said Norma Gray, who has attended St. Josephs for more than 60 years. "It seems like such a terrible thing to happen for a man with such a distinguished career. Even if he is vindicated this can never be fully erased."

Gray said parishioners were committed to sticking together to keep the church strong. "Father [Crespin] was devastated by this," she said. "We dont want him to be further devastated by the collapse of the parish."

Sharon Girard said she took Crespin at his word. "Hes a man of integrity," she said. "If he says he has been falsely accused then hes surely innocent."

"I dont believe it," said longtime parishioner Charles Robinson. He questioned why someone would press charges 30 years after the alleged abuse took place.

The Oakland diocese has not been immune to clergy sex scandals that made national headlines in 2002. Currently, the diocese is investigating 44 outstanding sexual misconduct claims against clergymen, Wiesner said. Many of the accusations were made decades after the fact, he added, so several of the priests under investigation are either dead or retired.

Wiesner said he believed Crespin is eligible to receive his pension while under investigation. Should the inquiry find him guilty, Wiesner said, Bishop Vigneron would decide whether or not to continue providing Crespin with benefits and housing. Crespin will leave his residence at St. Josephs and seek accommodations at a local parish, Wiesner said.

Crespin had been a fixture at St. Josephs, which is famous as a bastion of Catholic liberation theology with an emphasis on human rights. Like his longtime colleague and predecessor as pastor, Father Bill ODonnell, Crespin championed the cause of the poor and oppressed. In 1988, he was the plaintiff in a suit that successfully challenged a State Department of Health Services policy denying MediCal-funded nursing home care to immigrants.

Born in New Mexico to Mexican-immigrant parents, Crespin was active with local Latino groups, especially in the area of education. In 1995, he partnered with the Multicultural Institute on a program to combat the high drop-out rate for Latinos at Berkeley High. Crespin was also credited with saving St. Josephs Elementary School, where he helped boost attendance to approximately 124 students this year.

 
 

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