L.A. Archdiocese Says It Warned Lausd Not to Hire Pedophile Priest As Community Liaison
By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer
Contra Costa Times
February 5, 2013
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Monday that it raised red flags with Los Angeles Unified about a pedophile priest before the district hired him as a community liaison in 2002.
Monsignor Craig Cox filled out a reference questionnaire in 2001 for former priest Joseph Pina, saying he was "not the most stable of individuals" and recommending that he not be hired.
Cox also answered "no" when asked if Pina had carried out his job with the archdiocese in an "ethical and safe manner" and whether he'd be hired again.
The questionnaire was provided Monday by the archdiocese as officials scrambled to determine how a priest implicated in the clerical abuse scandal had gone on to work for the school district.
While Cox provided his phone number on the questionnaire, archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said, "There is no indication in our files of any follow-up by LAUSD once the form was returned."
If the district had inquired, officials might have learned that Pina had told church officials about a long-term sexual relationship with an adolescent girl and several "boundary issues" with young women.
Superintendent John Deasy said that he'd scoured Pina's personnel file on Monday and couldn't find a copy of the questionnaire.
"His file has a background check and a one-page resume and the usual forms, but we don't have this document," Deasy said. "Obviously, we're looking into it."
That wasn't an isolated incident.
The archdiocese said Monday it had notified the district in May 2008 that a former priest accused of having a relationship with a teenage girl was working as a girl's volleyball coach.
The coach was fired a few months later - after the Los Angeles Times alerted school officials that the ex-clergyman was named in a sex abuse lawsuit. District officials couldn't determine whether the church or the newspaper notification prompted the firing.
Pina was hired Jan. 7, 2002, as a community outreach coordinator for the Facilities Division, serving as a point person for residents concerned about issues related to the district's multibillion-dollar school construction program.
He was laid off last year as construction work waned but was brought back periodically for jobs lasting a day or two, such as school openings or ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
"That's not happening anymore," Deasy said. "He's done."
Deasy said he learned about Pina's past on Thursday night, when the former priest called his facilities boss to say that his case was among the scores of sex-abuse files being released by the archdiocese.
But Deasy said it appears that former facilities officials were aware almost from the start that Pina was among the priests identified in the early days of the clerical abuse scandal.
In August 2002, eight months after Pina was hired by the district, his name appeared in a Los Angeles Times story identifying priests who were being investigated for misconduct.
Deasy said he met Monday with a longtime facilities employee who related that Pina had met with his supervisors when the story was published, but no action was taken.
Pina was also named in the 2004 "Report to the People of God" released by the archdiocese in response to the sexual-abuse scandal.
Deasy said he didn't why Pina was allowed to continue working on the district's school-construction program.
"Clearly, there is a lot of digging and cleaning up for me to do."
Deasy said there were no complaints against Pina in his personnel file.
As with all job applicants, Pina had to undergo a criminal background check, but it came up clear because he'd never been charged with or convicted of a crime.
According to Deasy, Pina's resume said he'd worked as a production manager at a Whittier bakery from 1998 to 2001, and as a church pastor and associate pastor from 1994-98.
What the resume doesn't show, however, are the details of his archdiocese file - that he was hospitalized twice after incidents of sexual misconduct.
During one therapy session, Pina told a psychologist he'd become infatuated with an eighth-grade girl after seeing her dressed up in a Snow White costume.
Pina left the priesthood in 2008. According to the reference questionnaire, he listed "career change" as his reason for switching jobs.
The files about Pina and scores of other priests were released Thursday under court order as part of a 2007 settlement with more than 500 sex-abuse victims who shared in a $660 million settlement.
Since then, the archdiocese has made a concerted effort to notify authorities of former priests suspected of misconduct.
Tamberg said the archdiocese wrote the district a series of letters in May 2008, alerting them that former priest Renato Lopez was working at Woodrow Wilson High School.
Lopez had been named in a civil suit filed by a woman who claimed she'd had a year-long sexual relationship with Lopez when she was a student at Sacred Heart of Jesus High School.
A Los Angeles Times story published in July 2008 said Lopez had been fired by the principal who learned about the allegations from a reporter.
Deasy said he found the letters from the archdiocese in district files, along with paperwork that Lopez had been terminated, but he could not determine what actually led to Lopez being fired.