Releases 10,000 Pages of Documents in Abuse Case
By Dean Calbreath
San Diego Union-Tribune
October 24, 2010
|Irwin Zalkin at a news conference
when the Catholic Diocese of San Diego settled a priest-abuse case
Three years after the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego settled scores
of claims of sexual abuse by its priests, lawyers for the plaintiffs released
thousands of documents Sunday from church files showing diocese officials
quietly moved some problem priests from parish to parish.
The documents are from the personnel files of 48 priests who were convicted
of sexual abuse, had credible accusations made against them or were named
in civil suits. Their release is part of a landmark, $200 million settlement
between the diocese and the victims that was made in 2007.
A key part of that settlement for the victims was an agreement that priests'
personnel files would be made public after review by a judge to determine
what could be released and what would remain private.
On Friday, retired San Diego Superior Court Judge William Pate signed
an order releasing an estimated 10,000 pages of records.
"This is a major victory and a historic moment for the victims" said Irwin
Zalkin, who represented many of the 144 people who sued the diocese for
sexual abuse that had occurred sometimes decades earlier.
Zalkin said both sides continue to argue about whether an additional 2,000
pages of records should be made public.
The documents released Sunday go back to the 1950s and show that the diocese
was aware of complaints against some priests but continued to assign them
to parishes. Mostly, however, the documents contain records detailing
the more mundane elements of serving the faithful — everything from paying
bills to, in one priest's case, being criticized by church leaders for
having hair too long and sporting "hippie" sideburns.
They also contain darker passages. The files concerning Anthony Rodrigue,
a defrocked priest who admitted molesting children and was eventually
convicted and served time in prison, show that the diocese kept assigning
him to parishes despite complaints against him for almost a decade. He
was forced to retire in 1982.
A message seeking comment on the documents release left with the diocese
chancery headquarters on Sunday was not returned.
Most of the files deal with priests who are no longer serving as Roman
Catholic clergy. Zalkin said that at least one, Gustavo Benson, is serving
in Mexico, but that could not be confirmed.
In Rodrigue's case, a psychiatric report from 1989 — after he was retired
from priestly duties — said that when he served at Our lady of Guadalupe
parish in El Centro in the 1970s, he had "further difficulties with minors."
The diocese sent him for treatment to Massachusetts, then reassigned top
St. George's Church in Ontario in San Bernardino County. San Bernardino
County at the time was under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Diocese.
At St. George's, Rodrigue "experienced further sexual problems" and sought
treatment from a psychiatrist.
In another case, a priest named Luis De Francisco was apparently spirited
out of the country in the wake of allegations of abuse and an arrest by
police in 1963. Letters from then Bishop Charles F. Buddy reference how
de Francisco had been the subject of complaints from parishioners at three
separate churches for "association with their children."
After his arrest in August of that year, Buddy wrote that the diocese
arranged with the "civil authorities in San Diego" that charges would
be dropped if de Francisco agreed to leave the country voluntarily and
vowed never to return.
"This agreement was carried through," Buddy wrote to the bishop of Cali,
Colombia, where de Francisco was from. Buddy said the priest was taken
to the international border and released into Tijuana.
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