San Jose Bishop Names 15 Priests Accused of Child Sex Abuse
By Kimberly Veklerov
San Francisco Chronicle
October 18, 2018
|Pope Francis holds the Gospel Book during a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.|
The Catholic Diocese of San Jose on Thursday released the names of 15 clergy members who were known by the church to be child sex abusers.
At least nine priests on the list are dead, and the rest are permanently banned from the ministry. Many of the allegations were already publicly known through lawsuits and news reports.
One of the priests, Don Flickinger, who was sued for sexual abuse years ago, is assigned to the Fresno Diocese. He was permanently banned from the ministry in 2006, meaning he may not celebrate Mass, wear clerical attire or perform other priestly duties with the exception of participating in a funeral Mass for another priest within the diocese.
“Fr. Flickinger has maintained his innocence and has cooperated with the restrictions placed upon him,” said Teresa Dominguez, a spokeswoman for the Fresno Diocese. She stressed that the allegations against him were “part of one civil suit” and noted that it settled before going to trial.
The sexual misconduct allegations against the 15 men, which were not described in detail, spanned 1961 to the early 2000s and occurred at parishes within the Santa Clara County diocese. No cases of recent or ongoing abuse were included.
The list includes one priest, Leonel Noia, who served jail time after he was convicted of molesting a boy during a 1976 camping trip. Noia was suspended for three years in the 1970s but was allowed to return, spending the next 24 years at three San Jose parishes. He died in 2005.
Another, Joseph Pritchard, was sued for repeatedly molesting a 13-year-old altar boy in the 1970s. The lawsuit, which included allegations against other priests, resulted in a $21.2 million settlement in 2005. Pritchard died in 1988.
The list included only clergy members who admitted misconduct, were criminally convicted or were found to be culpable by a review board convened by the diocese.
Robert Gray, also on the list, was sentenced to probation for sexually abusing a teenage boy in 1993 whom he had been teaching karate. After his conviction, Gray took a leave of absence until 1995 and then completed administrative assignments for the church until 2002, when he was permanently banned. A 2017 directory for the Diocese of San Jose listed him as being on a leave of absence. He lives in Sunnyvale.
Allegations against Flickinger surfaced in 2002, 2005 and 2006, according to the list, and he was also the subject of legal complaints. In 2011, he was accused of abusing a 13-year-old boy a decade earlier at a San Jose church, and was accused of abusing children at a Saratoga parish throughout the 1990s. In 2013, victims settled with the dioceses of San Jose and Fresno for $985,000 stemming from allegations against Flickinger.
“I express my deepest apologies for the actions of those who were in positions of authority and who violated that sacred trust by abusing children,” San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath said in a statement. “The sexual abuse of children and young people is an appalling crime and a sin. When these perpetrators are members of the clergy, there are not only psychological wounds but spiritual wounds.”
McGrath said last month he would release the names after a Pennsylvania grand jury published a landmark report on systemic cover-up of child sex abuse by diocesan leaders in the state and at the Vatican. The investigation subpoenaed and reviewed the church’s internal records, which showed credible allegations against more than 300 priests and identified more than 1,000 child victims. The grand jury said victims likely probably number in the many thousands.
Bishop Michael C. Barber of the Oakland Diocese said he would also release a list of clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse in the coming weeks. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco hasn’t committed to such a move, but said he is considering it.
Other dioceses, including those of San Diego and Stockton, have published lists, too.
Abuse survivors and their advocates said the release by McGrath was inadequate and probably deficient. They are calling for a probe similar to Pennsylvania’s to be conducted by outside authorities.
“We’re not going to get that sort of disclosure from the bishops of San Jose or San Francisco or Oakland,” said Dan McNevin, a local leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “They have too much to lose by opening their files. ... If they really cared about victims, they’d open themselves to a subpoena-powered law enforcement investigation.”
The list, McNevin noted, does not include Catholic school teachers, nuns or deacons. It appears limited to a subset of clergy members hired by bishops.
“This release will help those victims of these released names, but it does not serve transparency and does not illuminate Bishop McGrath’s role in handling abuse in his diocese,” McNevin said.
McNevin and other survivors have met with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s staff, who would not confirm the existence of an investigation. Becerra’s grand jury authority is different from that of his Pennsylvania counterpart, Josh Shapiro.
“Becerra has the creative power to look into these files somehow,” McNevin said.
State prosecutors wanted to know what the survivors knew about California bishops’ networks and relationships to each other.
Another Bay Area SNAP leader, Melanie Sakoda, said only an investigation by law enforcement can provide a full accounting of abuse by clergy in the region.
“Part of the problem is that when you’re investigating yourself, you have a tendency to ignore some of the evidence,” she said. “It could be your friend, someone you went to seminary with, so it’s not as removed.”
McGrath did not say why the list wasn’t released earlier. He cited guidelines from 2002 instructing bishops that “making the names of clergy with credible allegations of sexual abuse of children public strengthens our accountability and demonstrates transparency to rebuild trust.”
“All these bishops that are releasing lists, they could have done it at any point after they became head of their diocese,” Sakoda said. “Even though it is too little, too late, it is good for survivors and good for the public when names get out there.”
The San Jose Diocese retained a former FBI investigator, Kathleen McChesney, and her consulting firm to oversee a review of personnel files related to sexual abuse and determine how diocesan leadership handled the allegations.
“As a result of the examination, there may be additional offenders identified,” the church said. “If so, then their names will be added to this list by the end of the year.”
Kimberly Veklerov and Ashley McBride are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @kveklerov, @ashleynmcb