Resignation of Catholic Bishop Too Little, Too Late, Say Southern California Priest Abuse Victims
By Scott Schwebkeand Deepa Bharath
Orange County Register
December 20, 2018
|Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop, Monsignor Alexander Salazar, pictured here in 2013, following a sexual misconduct allegation. (File Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)|
Pope Francis’ decision to accept the resignation of an auxiliary Los Angeles bishop amid accusations of misconduct with a minor does little to erase decades of cover-up by the Vatican, some Southern California victims of sex abuse by Catholic priests said Wednesday.
One victim, Lee Bashforth, said Monsignor Alexander Salazar’s resignation, many years after his alleged offense, is “disappointing and upsetting” for survivors.
“This is a problem the Catholic Church had an opportunity to fix,” he said. “They shoveled it under the rug. And 16 years later, we’re still having the curtain pulled back to reveal they are doing the same stuff they’ve been doing for centuries — covering up for pedophile priests.”
Appallingly, sexual assaults by priests most often have not been treated as crimes, said Bashforth, who was abused as a boy by Michael Wempe, a priest with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the time.
Wempe was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to prison in 2006.
“At least I had the satisfaction of seeing my perpetrator being held accountable in court,” Bashforth said. “Many others haven’t had that. There is no closure for survivors of this kind of abuse because their perpetrators are hiding behind their church and religion.”
The resignation of Salazar — who has served in parishes in Whittier, Pasadena and Los Angeles — is “shocking at a number of levels,” said Joelle Casteix, a sex abuse victim who founded the organization Survivors Taking on Predators.
The archdiocese had several opportunities to remove Salazar from the ministry, she said.
“They had a police investigation and credible allegations,” Casteix said. “The archdiocese has known since 2004 that these allegations go back to the 1990s. And yet, they elevated him to the office of bishop and the Vatican knew.”
The archdiocese has not stood by a pledge of transparency it made in 2002, she added.
“If they’re not telling us the truth about Salazar, then, who else are they not telling us about?” asked Casteix, who considers the church’s efforts to prevent future clergy abuse as inadequate.
“They tout training and fingerprinting volunteers,” Casteix said. “But the church doesn’t have a volunteer sex abuse crisis. It has a clergy sex abuse crisis.”
The archdiocese should “do the right thing” and turn over all information about suspected predator priests to law enforcement, she said.
Salazar, 69, was born in Costa Rica and ordained as a priest in 1984. Most recently, he served as vicar for the archdiocese’s office of ethnic ministries.
The announcement of his resignation follows the archdiocese’s Dec. 6 release of an updated 2004 report listing priests suspected of misconduct involving minors.
Salazar’s alleged sexual misconduct involving a minor allegedly occurred in the 1990s, when he was a parish priest, the archdiocese said in a statement.
The archdiocese first learned of the allegation against Salazar in 2005. Law enforcement investigated and recommended that Salazar be prosecuted, but no charges were filed, the statement said.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, who was the Los Angeles archbishop at the time, asked law enforcement to review the allegation and filed a report with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“The congregation investigated and permitted Bishop Salazar to remain in the ministry subject to certain precautionary conditions, which he has respected,” the statement said.
Mahony retired in 2011, his reputation tainted by questions about how predator priests were allowed to dodge criminal charges.
Salazar has “consistently denied the allegation,” and the archdiocese has received no other complaints against him, according to the archdiocese.
However, further investigation found the allegation against Salazar credible and Pope Francis accepted a recommendation from the archdiocese that he be removed from the ministry, paving the way for his early retirement.
“These decisions have been made out of deep concern for the healing and reconciliation of abuse victims and for the good of the Church’s mission,” the current archbishop of Los Angeles, the Most Rev. Jose Gomez, said in a statement. “Let us continue to stay close to victim-survivors of abuse through our prayers and actions.”
Salazar’s resignation follows months of turmoil at the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report uncovered the horrors of rampant sexual abuse by priests across six dioceses in that state, sending shock waves across the national Catholic Church reaching to the Vatican.
It was the most extensive report of clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic Church since the Boston Globe’s seismic expose in 2002 detailing misconduct by priests and church leaders’ efforts to conceal it.
After that grand jury report, law enforcement officials from at least 45 states have sought the help of Pennsylvania authorities to conduct similar audits.