|Corona Street Name Honoring Accused Priest Being Changed
January 25, 2009
More than 30 years ago, Corona honored Monsignor Matthew J. Thompson by naming a street after him.
Now the signs marking Monsignor Thompson Circle are coming down as an acknowledgement by the Diocese of San Bernardino that "credible allegations" of sexual abuse were made against Thompson.
It's something that Avery D. Ensley Jr. has pushed for since around 2002, when he first saw one of the street signs on his way to meet a diocesan official about his allegation that he was molested by Thompson, who was the pastor at St. Edward Catholic Church from 1943 to 1975.
The sign was the first thing Ensley brought up at the meeting.
"Having the street named after Monsignor Thompson, after all the stuff he did, was too much for me," he said.
Ensley, 62, was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit the church settled for nearly $200 million in 2007.
After discussing the name change for several years, the diocese in December asked that the street be renamed St. Edward Circle. The City Council approved the change last week.
Asking the city to remove Thompson's name is "really based on our standing commitment that we have to the healing and reconciliation for victims of sexual abuse," said diocesan spokesman John Andrews.
For Ensley, it's more important than any benefits that came from the settlement.
He recalled telling the diocesan official the day he saw Thompson's name gracing a city street, " 'I don't care if I get a dime out of this, but you need to take that sign down.' "
The street named for Thompson is a short cul-de-sac, about a block long, that was once part of Fifth Street just west of Grand Boulevard.
On one side is St. Edward Church, founded in 1896 but rebuilt in 1951 under Thompson's supervision. Across from the church is St. Edward Catholic School, which Thompson also is credited with building in 1947. A picture in a book the church produced for its centennial in 1996 shows the monsignor turning a shovelful of earth at the school's groundbreaking.
Thompson, who died in 1976, was a member of the city's first human relations commission and promoted political and social equality for the city's Mexican-American population, according to books by Jose Alamillo, Stanley Reynolds and Fred Eldridge in the Corona library's historical collection.
The council resolution that named the street for Thompson says the new name "will constitute a method of keeping Monsignor Thompson's many good works in the recollection" of Corona residents.
Ensley's recollections of Thompson are quite different. He attended St. Edward school from first to ninth grades and was an altar boy at the church.
Ensley recalled being taken from school to the monsignor's office or nearby residence where he was molested, and then getting disciplined at home later because his father thought Thompson had punished him for some misdeed.
Another priest became aware of the abuse and finally told Ensley's mother, who immediately sent him to live with an aunt in Massachusetts for a short time. When he came back, he said, Thompson left him alone.
But it was harder for Ensley to approach his father about what had happened.
"I didn't know how to tell him," Ensley said. "The culture at that time was a priest could do no wrong, and nobody questioned what they did."
ROOM FOR DOUBT
Today there's much more room for doubt, both within the church hierarchy and outside it.
Andrews said two allegations of abuse were made against Thompson, and he was included on a list of those with "credible allegations," released by the diocese as part of the 2007 settlement.
"Are we certain that the allegations against Monsignor Thompson are absolutely true? No, we're not, but . . . the allegations were deemed credible enough that his alleged victims were among those who were part of the settlement," Andrews said.
Calls to St. Edward were not returned, and church office staff referred questions to the diocese.
Ensley, who now lives in the Midwest, said he hopes to return to Corona to see the street signs changed. That church officials are willing to make the switch shows him they want to do the right thing, he said.
"I feel really good about it," he said. "It's going to show the community that they're taking strides to change their policies and to deal with these issues, because they certainly didn't deal with them then."
Reach Alicia Robinson at 951-368-9461 or arobinson@PE.com
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