By Sam Slovick
Mission & State
July 15, 2013
[Interactive Timeline: A history of horrors]
[The Paper Trail: A directory to the Santa Barbara clergy sex abuse scandal.]
|Paul Fericano is a survivor and cofounder of SafeNet, a support group for those affected by clergy sexual abuse. (Sam Slovick)|
Singing birds and shouting children announce another cacophonous end to a Garden Street Academy school day. A security guard patrols the lush property just behind the Old Mission Santa Barbara as girls and boys in bright colors greet the afternoon following a long day of sitting in hard seats. Though you won’t find any mention of it on the Academy’s website, prior to its current incarnation as a “progressive” K-12 private school, the facility was known for almost 100 years as St. Anthony’s Seminary, a vocational high school for boys studying to be priests. The Franciscan Friars Province of Saint Barbara, adherents of the ascetic spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi, ran the seminary. The friars lived across the narrow road at the Old Mission Santa Barbara.
The Franciscans originally started St. Anthony’s in 1896 in the Mission’s carpenter shop as a boys’ school called St. Anthony’s Seraphic College. It was intended to be a four-year high school with an optional year for students considering the priesthood to prepare for novitiate. The friars expanded the school in 1898 onto a 12-acre plot just a few hundred feet behind the Mission.
St. Anthony’s Seminary held its first classes at the Garden Street property in 1901, with the mission of grooming young men for the clergy, which it did for decades before closing ignominiously in 1987. By then, it had sealed its fate as one of the charter institutions in the Catholic clergy’s emerging sex abuse crisis.
With the children now gone for the day, the birds settle back into the tall trees around the Garden Street Academy, and the afternoon turns calm. Across the street, Paul Fericano can be found in a shady patch in the back of the Mission. He is contemplating a large boulder with a bronze plaque on its face and the larger context within which it exists. The boulder, a symbol of St. Anthony’s grim legacy, carries talismanic freight for Fericano.
Fericano had been a student at St. Anthony’s in the 1960s at the height of the abuse, decades before the scope and extent of its horrors were revealed. Fericano says a Franciscan priest named Mario Cimmarrusti repeatedly assaulted him while he was studying to be a priest himself. Court documents and personnel files released under a judge’s orders in 2012 would eventually depict Cimmarrusti as a particularly prolific perpetrator.
“This is where it all began in 1992 and ’93. It all broke here. It was huge,” Fericano says.
He is referring to the national reaction when an Independent Board of Inquiry submitted its findings in November 1993 to Father Joseph P. Chinnici, provincial minister of the Province of Saint Barbara. The board, comprised of mental health professionals, lay people and clergy, had convened in January to deal with allegations of rampant abuse of minors by St. Anthony’s clergy during a 23-year span from 1964 to 1987. The board sent letters of inquiry to as many alumni and their families as it could find addresses for. Three hundred men responded.
Anatomy of a Tragedy
The board’s findings paint a devastating picture. According to the report, a quarter of the 44 St. Anthony’s friars on faculty during this period abused students. In one school year, there were five offenders on staff. The board confirmed that at least 34 students were abused by friars and clergy at St. Anthony’s and the Mission, though it’s impossible to know the exact number—victims typically don’t come forward.
What we do know from the Board of Inquiry’s report and court documents related to subsequent lawsuits brought against the Franciscan Friars of the Province of Saint Barbara and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the offenses here were more than enough to put Santa Barbara at the pinnacle of the national clergy sex abuse scandal on a per-capita basis.
The friars eventually settled with 25 local plaintiffs in 2006, paying out nearly $28.5 million. In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled with more than 500 plaintiffs for $660 million. As part of the settlements, both entities were ordered to release internal documents related to the abuse charges, including personnel files, which the church fought vehemently.
In a June 2007 decision affirming the need for such transparency, Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman noted that since 1958, investigations had identified 76 cases in which Roman Catholic clergy abused Santa Barbara children, 54 of which were committed by friars at the Mission and St. Anthony’s.
In 2012, the Franciscans finally complied with court
orders demanding the release of church files and documents related to the abuse. In 2013, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles followed suit, publishing on its website approximately 12,000 pages of documents, including 83 files related to specific allegations of abuse by priests named in the legal settlements. The document drops came after a six-year campaign of resistance by the church that experts say cost millions of dollars, not to mention it further depleted already diminished reservoirs of goodwill.
When news of the long history of abuse at St. Anthony’s first hit in the early ’90s, it didn’t connect directly to allegations swirling around the Los Angeles archdiocese because most people didn’t realize that the friars there operate under its auspices. The connection to Los Angeles would prove closer and more devious as the clergy abuse scandal unfolded.