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  Group Urges Bishop to Warn Palm Springs about Priest

By Michael Fisher
The Press-Enterprise [Palm Springs CA]
September 19, 2005

A national self-help group for victims of clergy sexual abuse urged Bishop Gerald R. Barnes on Monday to alert Catholic parishioners in Palm Springs about a retired priest, who was accused in a lawsuit of sexual misconduct in Orange County.

The Rev. James M. Ford recently relocated to Palm Springs from San Roque Catholic Church in Santa Barbara, said Mary Grant, Western regional director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. Ford is accused of sexually abusing an Orange County youth in the late 1960s.

Ford, who could not be located for comment, has previously denied the accusation, telling the Los Angeles Times in February 2004 that he was "deeply hurt by this allegation of 35 years ago. It's completely and absolutely false."

Ford retired from San Roque in June, a church receptionist said. Ford left his forwarding address as a post office box in Palm Springs, she said.

Ford is not working for the Diocese of San Bernardino, nor does he have authorization to work as a part-time substitute priest in the Inland diocese, said the Rev. Paul Granillo, Bishop Barnes' assistant. Diocesan officials have not decided how they will handle SNAP's request, he said.

In her letter to Barnes, Grant expressed concern that Ford could attend Mass or volunteer at Inland parishes.

"Using your diocesan Web site, newspaper and church bulletins, we urge you to promptly, personally and publicly tell all parishioners that if they know of, suspect or have witnessed abuse, it is a moral as well as a civil obligation to contact the police," Grant wrote. "We specifically ask that you warn Palm Springs Catholics about Ford."

Along with sending a letter to Barnes, SNAP also on Monday delivered letters to the Palm Springs police and the Palm Springs Unified School District, asking they notify their officers, school officials, teachers and parents about Ford.

Police and school officials did not return messages Monday seeking comment.

In a 2004 lawsuit, a man accused Ford of sexually abusing him between 1968 and 1971 at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, said the Rev. Joe Fenton, the Orange Diocese's spokesman. The lawsuit named the Diocese of Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which managed Catholic parishes in Orange County until 1976.

The litigation targeting the Orange Diocese ended in December when the diocese agreed to pay $100 million to settle 90 pending clergy-abuse cases, Fenton said. He did not know how much money Ford's accuser received, saying the money was not split evenly.

The case is still pending against the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese's spokesman, said the allegation against Ford was reviewed by the archdiocese's clergy misconduct oversight board, a 13-member panel comprising 11 lay people, including a former victim of clergy sexual abuse.

"The allegation was not particularly specific and ... based on the paucity of information, they (the board) felt it was not appropriate to recommend that he (Ford) be put on administrative leave," Tamberg said, adding that Ford remained as pastor of San Roque until his retirement, leaving the archdiocese as a priest in good standing.

 
 

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