Accused Priest to Return to Ross Church
By Nancy Isles Nation
Marin Independent Journal [Ross CA]
November 28, 2006
A priest who was on leave from a Ross church while under investigation for sexual abuse allegations will return to his assignment next month for the Christmas season.
The Rev. John Schwartz had been in residence at St. Anselm's Church on Shady Lane until last October, when a civil lawsuit in Oregon seeking $4 million named him as an abuser.
Schwartz was on vacation when the news of the lawsuit became public, and he took a voluntary leave after the Archdiocese of San Francisco said it would conduct an independent investigation of the allegations.
Parishioners at St. Anselm's were told on Sunday that the accusations were not credible and that Schwartz would return to the church. He is expected to be assigned to another parish after the holidays.
A statement from the Archdiocese of San Francisco read to parishioners stated that after reviewing "all available evidence," an Archdiocesan Independent Review Board "determined that the allegations were not sustainable and recommended to the Archbishop that Father Schwartz be returned to ministry."
Review board members included "a retired judge, a retired policewoman, a religious sister who is a practicing lawyer, a clinical psychologist, a pediatrics physician and a pastor," according to the statement.
Parishioners were told that two investigators spoke with or attempted to speak with witnesses in three states. The claimant was asked to participate but refused.
Advocates for victims of priests were angered when they learned of the decision of the archdiocese, saying the review was not independent and was not an investigation.
"The independent investigation is a mockery," said Joey Piscitelli, Bay Area outreach coordinator for Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
"They are saying their independent investigation found the priest credible," he said. "An independent investigation is a jury."
The $4 million lawsuit, filed under the initials of J.T. to provide anonymity for the plaintiff, claimed Schwartz sexually abused him in 1986 and 1987 while he was a student at the Jesuit High School in Beaverton, Ore. Schwartz left the school in 1987.
The suit was settled for $95,000 with Jesuit High School in Portland and the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit organization. Details are not publicly available.
Archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy noted that neither the Jesuit High School nor the Oregon Province admitted to wrongdoing in the case.
An attorney for the Jesuits said the order agreed to a settlement to avoid the expenses of a legal case and to put its energy into educating its students. The Archdiocese of San Francisco had no involvement in the lawsuit or settlement.
Piscitelli, who won a civil lawsuit against a San Francisco priest in a jury trial in July, said an independent investigation by the diocese in his case also found the priest was not to blame.
"They got the independent investigation to say he's credible and I'm not," Piscitelli said.
SNAP is especially concerned about Schwartz's assignment to St. Anselm's because the church has an affiliated elementary school a couple of blocks away on Belle Avenue in San Anselmo. Piscitelli said allowing Schwartz access to students there is putting the children at risk of being molested.
"The archbishop of San Francisco is using children as guinea pigs to test the credibility of accused priests," Piscitelli said. "Ross is an affluent area, and they put a lot of money into that school - if that priest molests one of those kids, they are in for one of the biggest lawsuits ever."
Piscitelli said he plans to show up at St. Anselm's School today to distribute leaflets to parents so they will know about the allegations against Schwartz.
In its statement, the archdiocese said no previous allegations of inappropriate behavior had ever been made against Schwartz and concluded: "Let us all join in welcoming Father back to the ministry to which he was called."
Contact Nancy Isles Nation via e-mail at email@example.com
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