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  Church Founder Accused
Beloved El Monte Priest Included in L.A. Sex-Abuse Files

By Marianne Love
San Gabriel Valley Tribune [El Monte CA]
October 23, 2005

EL MONTE -- The Rev. John Coffield was a hero to many in this community, a rebel who fought to desegregate public schools and government jobs.

In 1999 the city had its first "Father Coffield Day" to honor the Irish-born priest, a beloved minister in the El Monte barrios from 1943 to 1955. He had co-founded Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, El Monte's first Catholic church, on a street that was eventually renamed in his honor.

But before Coffield died Feb. 2, he shared with others that he'd been accused of sexual molestation in May 2002.

His name was listed among the summaries of the confidential files of 126 priests the Los Angeles Archdiocese posted on its Web site earlier this month.

Coffield, who was 91 when he died, was accused in a telephone message from a 49-year-old adult male who claimed he was molested at Dolores Mission in Los Angeles from 1960 to 1962.

On Dec. 24, 2003, the Beverly Hills law firm of Kiesel, Boucher and Larson LLP filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of multiple plaintiffs.

Among them is Coffield's accuser, identified only as Michel C., who claims Coffield gained the trust of his parents and the abuse occurred at different places, including on the school grounds, from about 1959 through approximately 1960.

Anthony M. De Marco, an attorney with the firm, said the judge has ordered a halt in the proceedings to allow the discovery period to continue.

De Marco said that since the 2003 suit was filed, a second man has accused Coffield of molesting him at the mission when he was a boy.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the documents released Oct. 11 were from personnel files as they exist today; nothing was changed. Tamberg said there also are confidential files and information stored on databases that complement the recently released files.

Coffield was assigned to Dolores Mission in 1955 as an administrator. He was named pastor in 1959 and served in that capacity until he was moved to Ascension Parish in Los Angeles as pastor on Sept. 20, 1961.

El Monte resident Ben Campos, 71, said he knew Coffield well and spoke to him about the claims.

"He thought the allegations were ridiculous," Campos said. "He talked about the fact that it couldn't have happened because he had the evidence (that) he wasn't where the person said he was."

Campos said Coffield wasn't upset over the allegations and that he was a positive man with practical senses and clear thinking.

El Monte Mayor Ernie Gutierrez defended Coffield and criticized the way the archdiocese is handling itself.

"Anyone can accuse anyone of anything. If the allegations were dismissed, it should say that," said Gutierrez, 70, whose friendship with Coffield dated to 1961.

Gutierrez said he never broached the subject with Coffield because he thought it would be insulting.

He also said the church should allow the police to sift through the evidence and have the District Attorney's office determine whether charges are warranted for any accused priest.

"That will determine if they were guilty or innocent," Gutierrez said. "The process the church follows is flawed; it's a system that makes no sense."

 
 

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