Trust -- Testimony of the Man Who Found Photos of Nude Boys

Yakima Herald Republic
January 7, 2007

Following is testimony given in December 2005 to the Catholic Diocese of Yakima Lay Advisory Board by the person who discovered photographs of nude boys on a priest's computer in 2003. Names of people not previously mentioned in articles about the incident have been removed. Also, some changes have been made for the sake of brevity.

Key to individuals:

Priest A -- The priest who was the focus of a criminal investigation for having photographs of nude boys on his computer.

Priest B -- A diocesan priest.

Priest C -- A parish priest in the Upper Yakima Valley.

Priest D -- A parish priest in Yakima.

Priest E -- A parish priest outside Yakima County.

Priest F -- A longtime parish priest in Yakima.

I am here tonight to try to help bring some clarity to a situation that has become clouded by rumor, innuendo, confusion and false statements. I have a simple goal, to convince this committee that a deeper investigation into the recent allegations that the priest has broken numerous provisions of the Diocese of Yakima policies concerning sexual harassment and sexual misconduct with minors is warranted. I hope to enlist the aid of the committee in bringing to a stop the deliberate misinformation and apparently ongoing attempts to discredit me in the eyes of our fellow Catholics and the clergy of Yakima. I come here tonight to try to explain how I think confusion was generated and a process of pressure, bordering on intimidation, was carried out.

On Sept. 26, 2003, while repairing the printer attached to the computer in Priest A's living room, I pushed the print command to clear out jobs that had previously been sent to the printer and was surprised to see that a number of pages of pictures of naked boys were produced.

My first response was of profound disappointment. My second response was to phone my wife and inform her that I was in serious trouble at work. I believed that somehow this discovery would cost me my job. I feared that no matter how the situation played out that some people, possibly the bishop himself, would blame me for causing problems for this good man.

My fears were not based on some paranoia but on the fact that in the past, church leaders unilaterally decided what the truth was in all matters. In the past, people who talked often paid a heavy price. The only consolation I had was knowing that our diocese had established policies which I could follow and that would provide me with protection against retribution and reprisals.

I took some comfort in thinking that our diocese had a committee in place whose job it is to represent the laity and to deflect some of the power that church leaders can bring to bear when they want to prevent information from coming out that they deem could harm the church's image or the reputation of a priest.

I followed those policies, turned the pictures in to Russ Mazzola (head of the advisory board), and although I could critique how I thought the policies could have been better followed, in the end the priest's breakdown the day he was confronted by the bishop with the pictures make this moot.

My thoughts and actions throughout the past 14 months have not come only from within myself. I spoke a number of times early on with Russ Mazzola and Priest B. As time went on and the holding of the secret became harder, I began seeing a counselor. I responded to a question on the phone from Priest C with the whole story.

He said that Priest A could never be in a parish again. No matter the results of his treatment. He warned me to write down every conversation I had with anybody about this. Be careful whom I talked to. They would be looking for a sacrificial lamb over this discovery and it would be me.

Considering the fact that the police were investigating and canon law may have been broken, I was very surprised when Priest D told me he knew nothing about the situation. I asked him that as (a member of the diocesan leadership) shouldn't he have been informed. He shrugged and said that the bishop must think it wasn't necessary.

Priest D told me how the parish secretary at the priest's former parish had called him because parishioners had approached her about the fact that Priest A had young men spending the night at the rectory and they thought it looked bad. Priest D told her to confront Priest A about this, which she did. Not long after doing so, she was fired for job performance issues. I asked Priest D if he thought the two were related and he said he didn't know.

Months passed and I felt like things were getting better when I was informed that Priest A was coming back and being posted at St. Paul's. On March 18, 2004, Priest A called me at my home and engaged in a rambling, redundant one-sided conversation explaining why he had downloaded the pictures. I won't go into details regarding what he told me about his psychological state but he did admit in our conversations that he had gone to other sites that showed naked boys but wasn't addicted to them and would stay away in the future.

He repeated many times that it was important for me and my wife to remain quiet about the whole situation as it would hurt the church and would do nobody any good. I felt threatened by his phone call.

I talked with Priest C about Priest A's call and he recommended I speak with Priest E about how to proceed. Priest E and I spoke for nearly an hour. He told me to go to Priest B with my concerns that charges could still be filed and what Priest A had said during his call to me.

Priest E recommended Priest A not return until that was resolved. He warned me that if no charges were filed and I continued to pursue the matter, I would be viewed as the one causing problems, not Priest A. Priest E offered to come with me. I told him I would try to deal with this on my own.

Priest B was receptive, agreed that charges presented a problem and said he would take the concern to the bishop. He didn't address concerns I had about the content of the phone call from Priest A. I was hopeful. But Priest A returned and took up ministry at St. Paul's soon after this meeting.

I took no actions and tried to accept that Priest A was back to stay. Early in the summer he was involved in the REACH Camp and Conference being held at Holy Family where he was a main speaker, teaching concepts of moral decision making to the teens. I believe he also heard confessions during this event.

Summer passed and toward the end of September the story ran on KNDO news about a priest that was being investigated for over a year for possession of child porn. The airing of the story generated many questions and caused Robert Fontana to begin to find out what was behind the story.

Without going into his actions which I hope you give him an opportunity to explain to you himself, he has assured me he stayed within the structure, always talking directly to the bishop and keeping Russ Mazzola informed of what he was finding out in his attempt to get answers for himself.

During a diocesan director's meeting, when pushed by Robert, the bishop agreed that he was not following the policy that required the removal of a priest who was actively being investigated by the police for misconduct. The bishop also said he was following the advice of the Lay Advisory Board.

Since the TV story aired, an employee of Priest A's former parish phoned me to get verification that I was the person who found the pictures and that the priest in the story was indeed Priest A.

I confirmed it was and then she went on to tell me she had felt Priest A acted in ways that were inappropriate or gave the appearance of being inappropriate while assigned to that parish. This information has compelled me to come forward and follow the policy on sexual misconduct, paragraph IV Invitation to Report, which directs me as an employee to report abuse or the possibility someone was in danger of being abused.

Based on information told to me by this employee, I believe the following prohibitions under paragraph XII, Standards of Behavior for Clergy and Volunteers, may have been violated by Priest A. As is stated in Paragraph XII, "Not only must the actual behavior meet appropriate standards, but also all clergy, employees and volunteers are expected to act in ways which do not give the appearance of impropriety."

No. 4. The singling out of persons, especially children and minors, for special personal attention or gifts.

The employee told me:

Priest A ingratiated himself with certain families that have teenage boys and spent much of his time involved in their activities, especially doing things with the boys. (He did the same in his first assignment.)

He had teen boys come to his home to play video games, often for hours.

He held gatherings of teen boys (no girls invited) for dinners, game nights and videos at his home.

He gave numerous gifts to a minor.

The employee told Robert Fontana that Priest A admitted to her he gave beer to a minor because "it helped to calm his nerves."

No. 5. Taking young people on personal trips or vacations without other adults or appropriate chaperones.

The employee told me:

Priest A took a minor on a trip to Europe paid for by an unknown male parishioner who traveled with them until getting to Europe, then left on his own itinerary.

No. 6. A relationship with a parishioner or client, which becomes highly personal or which mixes professional responsibilities with a personal friendship in ways that might be viewed a inappropriate.

The employee told me:

Priest A introduced the minor to others as his "godson" and himself as his "godfather."

The minor spent a number of weeks one summer living in the rectory with Priest A "getting a break from his home environment."

The allegations made to me and to Robert Fontana by the employee must be investigated thoroughly. I believe that the employee may not be a willing witness. I had advised her to speak with Priest B because she was not willing to speak with Russ Mazzola.

She phoned Priest B and when she told him what she wanted to see him about, he responded that he would meet her at the diocesan lawyer's office with the diocesan lawyer present. Instead she went and spoke with Priest F and reported to Robert that she had "told him everything." She told Robert she was writing a letter to Russ Mazzola but was not going to include all she knew or suspected.

My final area of concern that I feel I must address is the presence of "institutional intimidation." Fear of intimidation seems to me to be the prime driving force in the establishment of the lay advisory board system. Even with a functioning board in place, I believe this has and is taking place in this situation.

Some of the intimidation is not intentional but instead is part of the very culture of the lay-clergy relationship. Priest C advised me to "be careful, you will be the sacrificial lamb"; Priest E (said), "if no charges are brought, the problem will be with you, not Priest A"; Priest B said, "If this information gets out no diocese in the country will hire Priest A" and "this must be kept quiet or ? there will be consequences"; Priest C said, "We will always try to protect the children and we surely will protect the good name of the priest."

Some of the intimidation is not intentional but instead is part of the very culture of the lay-clergy relationship. Priest C advised me to "be careful, you will be the sacrificial lamb"; Priest E (said), "if no charges are brought, the problem will be with you, not Priest A"; Priest B said, "If this information gets out no diocese in the country will hire Priest A" and "this must be kept quiet or ? there will be consequences"; Priest C said, "We will always try to protect the children and we surely will protect the good name of the priest."

All these statements and many others I have heard I believe were meant to help me decide to keep myself out of harm's way. Others have been more directly aimed at putting fear into me. Priest A called and warned me to "keep quiet as it would only hurt the church and do no good for anyone"; Bishop Sevilla wrote in his response to me: "I'm not sure it was accurate for you to say in your letter that he was in possession of those photos since, as I understand it, you printed them."

Priest F stood up last week and addressed his people during Mass that a good priest is being harmed by "rumor and innuendoes being spread by two men, one of whom works for the diocese," and stated something to the fact that he thought an attack on this priest was tantamount to an attack on him also. This action has done much to fuel confusion and establish an atmosphere of secrecy and duplicity.

I came here tonight not only to try to address certain issues but also to inform you that the lay people of the Diocese of Yakima have the impression that you are our representatives in matters dealing with sexual misconduct of priests. We also expect that you will do your work in a way that not only discovers guilt but will demonstrate the innocence of a priest who is wrongly accused.

We have the hope that you are protecting our children in those circumstances when the leadership of our diocese acts with timidity or errs on the side of protecting a priest, possibly at the cost of the safety of our children. We hold the belief that your response to nagging rumors and quiet allegations about a priest won't be to dismiss them out of hand because of a prejudice toward disbelief but that you will investigate, even if it means using father's name, so as to get to the real truth.

We look to you for transparency and for information that gives us assurances that every day, everything is being done to keep our children and youth safe. We look to the committee to be the conduit of the needed actions that will allow us to trust our church's leadership again in this area, like we used to. We know your task is daunting. We know we are asking a lot from you. You may experience us as demanding and unreasonable at times but our children's very lives are at stake. Please don't let us down. Thank you.


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