Did His Past Come Back to Haunt Him?
Stockton Bishop Loses Bid for Chairmanship of Committee on Child Protection after Sex-Abuse Survivors Group Registers Protest

California Catholic Daily
November 28, 2007

Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire failed to win the chairmanship of the U.S. bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People -- though he has served on the committee for several years.

Instead, at their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 20, 130 U.S. bishops voted to give the committee chairmanship to Bishop Blaise Cupich of Rapid City, South Dakota. Blaire, who is also president of the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, received the support of 101 bishops.

Blaire's candidacy to head the committee, which is tasked with developing policies dealing with clergy abuse of minors, was opposed by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which describes itself as a "volunteer self-help organization of survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their supporters."

SNAP opposed Blaire in part because he had wanted a California law that removed the statute of limitations of one year in cases of sexual abuse of minors to be overturned, according to the Nov. 14 Stockton Daily Record. The state law in question removed for 2003 the statute of limitations both in criminal and civil cases involving sexual abuse. In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that removing the statute of limitations in criminal cases was unconstitutional. The court's ruling did not affect civil cases.

In an Oct. 16, 2003 letter to California bishops, SNAP said it was "deeply troubled by recent legal maneuvers by one of your colleagues to overturn California's new child sex abuse law." Blaire, said the letter, "is challenging the constitutionality of this law."

SNAP criticized Blaire as well for his handling of the case of defrocked priest Oscar Pelaez. In 2001, Blaire learned of allegations that Pelaez, a priest of the Stockton diocese, had molested a 14-year old boy at Sacred Heart Church in Turlock in 1997. Blaire immediately suspended Pelaez, according to a March 6, 2003 Stockton Daily Record story and sent him to a medical facility on the East Coast -- but he did not report the incident to civil authorities.

Blaire told the Record that, because the victim was an adult when he alleged the abuse, the diocese saw no need to report it. Blaire said his critics "made an issue about not reporting. We had no [legal] obligation to report."

The victim's therapist, however, reported Pelaez to authorities, and in the summer of 2002, the priest pleaded no contest to 12 counts of child molestation and was sentenced to 40 months at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.

The Stockton diocese settled with Pelaez's victim in 2002 for $1 million. The diocese agreed to the settlement, Blaire told the Record, because of "the uncertainty involved in what would be litigated."

Stockton diocese's spokeswoman Sister Terry Davis told the Nov. 16 Record that, under Blaire, the diocese has instituted sexual abuse policies in compliance with U.S. Bishops' Conference directives. These include suspension of a priest from ministry during an investigative period and turning all information over to law enforcement.


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