San Jose: Bellarmine Says Accusation of Abuse by Jesuit in Late 1960s Is "Credible"
By Mark Gomez and Joe Rodriguez
September 11, 2012
In a remarkably open letter to alumni, the head of an elite school for boys in San Jose apologized to a graduate of the school who claims he was sexually molested on campus by a Jesuit brother four decades ago.
"There is nothing that we take more seriously than the protection of our students," wrote the Rev. Paul Sheridan, president of Bellarmine College Preparatory. In an email to hundreds of graduates he called the victim's story "credible." Sheridan said he was alerting graduates due to "the responsibility of transparency initiated by my predecessors."
His letter was followed by an official statement from the Jesuits main office in California. "We desire to further the healing of anyone harmed by a Jesuit of this Province."
Both Sheridan's letter and the religious orders statement name the victim and the alleged molester -- Brother William Farrington, who supervised the students living on campus from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The molestation apparently did not come to light until recently when the former student decided to come forward. Farrington was removed from Bellarmine following a different allegation, although the school did not disclose when that complaint was made.
Farrington could not be reached for comment. He apparently lives at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos. The Mercury News does not normally name victims of sexual abuse without their permission. The former student could not be reached in time for this report.
If true, his allegations would add another scandal to a Catholic Church reeling from a series of sexual abuse convictions over many years, reports of new cases, and the attempted cover-ups by bishops and other top church officials.
While his letter and the official statement from the Jesuit office are filled with apologetic language, the Bellarmine case has already drawn a skeptical response from one group critical of the church's institutional handling of the many scandals.
"They're working harder to look better," said David Clohessy, director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. A former Catholic and victim of such abuse, Clohessy said the Bellarmine letters amount to damage control and an attempt to appease the school's wealthy alumni and to fool rank-and-file members of the faith.
"Many Catholics want to believe church officials are reforming and will cling to the tiniest bit of evidence that reform is happening," Clohessy said in a telephone interview. "But it's not true."
In his alumni letter, Sheridan said he met with the victim and was convinced his motive was to draw out any others at the school who might have been molested and need help. He even quoted the victim.
"At each step, I was met with an apology, concern, caring and willingness to help," the victim reportedly said about his meeting with Jesuit officials. "They support my desire to send this letter as an expression of my care and concern for my classmates who might have had similar painful experiences."
Jesuits describe the alleged victim as a 1968 graduate who was staying at student housing supervised by Farrington, who was not a priest but a "brother." Jesuits brothers are not ordained like priests, but as members of the religious order, they do much of the teaching at Jesuit schools.
Founded in 1851, Bellarmine has produced many Silicon Valley leaders in politics, government, business and even sports. Its graduates include California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, state Assemblyman Jim Beall, Santa Clara County Supervisor David Cortese, San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo and former Mayor Tom McEnery. It's sporting alumni include former Olympic swimmer Pablo Morales and former National Football League quarterback Dan Pastorini.