Priest under Investigation for Alleged Misconduct

By Jane Gargas
Yakima Herald-Republic
December 22, 2007

A Jesuit priest who was serving a short-term

assignment at St. Joseph Catholic Church in White Salmon, Wash., is under investigation for possible sexual misconduct with a minor.

The priest, who's 76, was removed from the church after suspicions were raised about adult

pornography found on a parish computer.

The Jesuit priest had been filling in for the pastor, the Rev. Felix Rodriguez, who had been on sabbatical since late October. The Jesuit was scheduled to serve in White Salmon, which is part of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, until Jan. 1. But two weeks ago, he returned to his home in Los Gatos, Calif.

Officer Jim Andring of the White Salmon Police Department confirmed that an investigation is ongoing but declined to comment further.

"We're saddened by this, it came as a big shock," said the Rev. Robert Siler, chief of staff for Bishop Carlos Sevilla, who heads the Catholic Diocese of Yakima.

The Herald-Republic genrally does not name people under criminal investigation until they are charged.

Siler said the matter began when adult pornography was found on a parish computer in White Salmon. The Rev. Rodriguez, who had returned from sabbatical to his parish for a visit, confronted the Jesuit priest about the pornography, but the priest denied accessing it. Nevertheless, the priest was asked to leave White Salmon and return to the Jesuits' California province in Los Gatos.

Although viewing adult pornography is not illegal, Siler said in an e-mailed statement, it is "obviously not something we want our priests to be spending their time looking for on the Internet."

Rodriguez asked the police to examine the parish computer for any evidence of child pornography, which is illegal. But the police found none.

Rodriguez announced during Mass two weeks ago that after irregularities had been found on the parish computer, the Jesuit priest had left.

Earlier this week, a 17-year-old boy came to Rodriguez and alleged that the Jesuit priest had inappropriately touched him during a visit. Rodriguez contacted the White Salmon police, and

Sevilla contacted Jesuit officials in California.

According to the Rev. Al Naucke, a spokesman with the Jesuits' California province, no other allegations have ever been made about the priest.

"There's not even been a hint in his past" of misconduct, Naucke said. He added that the priest has given a statement to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.

"He has an entirely different take on things than the complainant does," Naucke said.

The priest, who is semi-retired, last served a full-time assignment as associate pastor at St. Agnes Church in San Francisco. After his semi-retirement, he has filled in for priests on sabbatical or vacation throughout the West, Naucke noted.

Siler said that in the White Salmon situation, the Yakima diocese is following its policy on sexual misconduct with vulnerable persons.

"We hope there aren't any other alleged victims," he said. "We're waiting to see if anyone else comes forward."

Robert Fontana, a leader of the local Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic support group that has been highly critical of church handling of sexual misconduct allegations in the past, said it sounded like the church was taking appropriate action in this case.

"We're glad the police were called and glad there's an independent investigation," he said.

Fontana added that "we also hope that the Jesuit priest will be given due process by the church and that there will be no hiding of facts."


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