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  Documents Indicate Church Never Probed Abuse Claim

By David Ryan
Register [Napa CA]
March 14, 2005

While hundreds of cases charging Catholic priests with sexual abuse work their way through the California courts, one stands out: The case that charges Monsignor Joseph Alzugaray, now head of St. Appolinaris Catholic Church in Napa, with sexually abusing a young girl in Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago.

The case is unusual in part because Alzugaray is vigorously battling the claims, going farther than other priests in California by filing a counter-suit against his accuser, Erin Brady.

Now, more than a year after the Southern California woman filed a lawsuit accusing Alzugaray of abuse, court documents obtained by the Register indicate the Catholic diocese in Los Angeles and Santa Rosa has never fully investigated claims that were first raised in 1993. Alzugaray and the church have said in their defense that Alzugaray had been cleared by several internal investigations.

Letters between church officials, church-generated psychological reports obtained by the Register, and testimony in the Brady-Alzugaray court case, show that Alzugaray has been subject to repeated psychological and other inquiries. But the church focused on Alzugaray's handling of church finances and on his decisions to transfer from one diocese to another.

Further, a psychologist who evaluated Brady at the church's request in 1996 said she believed Brady suffered sexual abuse as a child. She offered no opinion as to whether Alzugaray was involved.

A separate church official who fielded Brady's original allegations of abuse concluded the woman's "recovered memory" of abuse was not credible enough to launch a church investigation.

Charges surfaced in 1993

Brady, now 45, claimed in a December 2003 lawsuit filed in Los Angeles that she was repeatedly molested by Alzugaray at the Immaculate Conception parish in Monrovia from 1967 to 1970. Brady first informed the church of the claims in 1993, saying she had recovered memories of the incidents after decades of repression.

Alzugaray denied the claims and filed a libel suit against Brady.

When Brady filed suit, the Diocese of Santa Rosa claimed Alzugaray had been investigated and exonerated at least three times by church officials in Los Angeles and Santa Rosa. The 11,711-square mile Santa Rosa Diocese includes Napa County.

"The Archdiocese of Los Angeles investigated the allegations at least twice and found no evidence to support them," Santa Rosa Diocese spokeswoman Dierdre Frontczak said in January 2004. Frontczak also claimed a Santa Rosa Diocese independent review board exonerated Alzugaray in 2002.

Alzugaray's libel suit claims the Los Angeles Archdiocese launched an investigation in 1993 and completed an "extensive psychological evaluation" on Alzugaray that cleared him of any wrongdoing.

But documents obtained by the Register indicate the church did not investigate Brady's allegations in Los Angeles, and the Santa Rosa Diocese review completed in 2002 relied on past investigations of Alzugaray that either did not address Brady's claims at all or relied on interviews with Alzugaray.

Four reviews of father, one of Brady

In all, Alzugaray has undergone evaluations by church officials four times.

According to letters between Alzugaray and Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Alzugaray submitted to psychological reviews in 1993 and 1994 to assess what Mahony characterized as questionable financial decisions Alzugaray made at two diocese posts. While the letters list Mahony's reasons for wanting the evaluations, they do not mention Brady or claims of abuse.

An additional psychological review completed for the Diocese of Santa Rosa was done as part of the protocol of a priest switching between dioceses.

Only the third psychologist to study Alzugaray, Jose LaCalle, was informed of Brady's allegations, according to court papers. In 1995, LaCalle found Alzugaray fit for duty in the Santa Rosa Diocese, but LaCalle mostly relied on the results of two previous psychologists who apparently had no knowledge of Brady's allegations and had not investigated Alzugaray for sexual misconduct.

In his January 25, 1996 report, LaCalle advised the then-Santa Rosa Diocese Bishop George Patrick Ziemann that Alzugaray's evaluation did not reveal much about his actions in Los Angeles or Brady's claims.

"It is beyond the scope of this evaluation to assess the past performance of Msgr. Alzugaray in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," he wrote. "This examiner is aware that the majority of the information comes directly from Msgr. Alzugaray himself with the exception of the documents which were also provided by Msgr. Alzugaray. This examiner is also aware of the existence of many other documents, but they have not been made available to me."

The fourth review came from Leonard Schwartzburd, a member of the Santa Rosa Diocese's independent review board who took it upon himself to look over Brady's allegations again in 2002. However, Schwartzburd, a psychologist, did not interview Alzugaray, Brady or any person at Immaculate Conception during the time of the alleged abuse. In a letter to Msgr. John Brenkle of St. Helena Catholic Church, also a member of the independent review board, Schwartzburd said he relied on Alzugaray's past psychological reports and a past statement from Brady.

"Apart from the statements of the accuser, the other documents, the psychological reports and test data do not contain material suggesting that Msgr. Alzugaray is a pedophile," Schwartzburd wrote.

According to 2004 deposition testimony from Timothy Dyer, Vicar for Clergy of the Los Angeles Archdiocese when Brady made her allegations in 1993, the church has not done a full investigation of Brady's claims.

Dyer said that his job was to make recommendations on personal, emotional and spiritual issues that affected priests in the archdiocese -- including following up on allegations of sexual abuse. Brady originally came to Dyer when she presented her allegations.

Asked at a deposition related to the Brady case if the archdiocese launched any investigation into Brady's claims at Immaculate Conception, Dyer said no.

"The offer, the hope and my suggestion that she go to independent evaluation was the approach that was taken towards investigation," he said.

The independent evaluation Brady completed in 1996 suggested Brady was the victim of abuse, though it made no findings regarding who might have inflicted the abuse.

According to court records, psychologist Barbara Carlson told the church before the review took place that it would be useless to investigate Alzugaray because "available testing procedures would be unable to establish the historical accuracy of specific memories reported by Ms. Brady ..."

In her subsequent report on her findings, Carlson told the church that in her 20 years of experience with trauma survivors, Brady fit the bill.

"The results of this assessment are indicative of both sexual abuse and neglect in childhood," she wrote in July 1996. "There were no indications of dishonesty or malingering. Honesty and integrity appear to be strong parts of her value system."

Brady said she was never contacted by the church for any investigation.

Questioning Brady's claim

In February of 2002, Mahony wrote a letter to L.A. Catholics entitled "I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart." Mahony said the church established a zero-tolerance policy against the sexual abuse of minors in 1988. One of the policy's basic tenets was to "treat all allegations of sexual abuse seriously."

According to Alzugaray's deposition testimony in his defamation case against Brady, he expected the church to investigate Brady's accusations after 1993, but he heard nothing.

"It was really my understanding that the (L.A.) diocese would investigate and come up with something, and I never heard from them, I never heard from anybody," he said. When asked if he ever inquired about an investigation, Alzugaray said: "No, I didn't, but I did offer to help with it, if they needed any type of, you know, assistance. I mean, I wanted the thing resolved."

In his testimony, Dyer said after he received a categorical denial from Alzugaray, he didn't follow up on Brady's allegations because he didn't believe in the controversial subject of recovered memories of trauma.

"The fact that she didn't have a particular person in mind at first, that it gradually came to her, that she seemed to have her own doubts about it, left me with the impression that, while she was sincere, that it wasn't a credible allegation," he said.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese and Alzugaray's Los Angeles-based attorney did not return repeated requests for comment for this report.

Frontczak said the attorney for the Santa Rosa Diocese told her the church had documents that would prove the church performed investigations, but it was keeping them secret and didn't want to comment while Alzugaray's court case is on-going.

Brady's case against Alzugaray is one of more than 500 claims filed against the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 2003. A state law suspended the statute of limitations in filing abuse claims at that time, igniting a flood of lawsuits filed before Jan. 1, 2004.

A state judge later suspended most information-gathering, called discovery, on the cases while settlement talks were underway involving attorneys for the church and the plaintiffs.

When Alzugaray filed a counter-suit against Brady, her attorneys and a group of people who represent victims of priest molestation, it changed the posture of the case so that the investigation continued.

Brady refused to file a motion to dismiss Alzugaray's case in 2004 -- as the rest of the defendants did successfully -- because she wants to take the case to trial, according to her attorneys. Tony DeMarco, one of Brady's Beverly Hills-based attorneys, said he plans to seek more testimony from Dyer and others. It's uncertain when or if the case will go to trial.

 
 

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