New Sex Abuse Allegations Raised against Former Hanna Boys Center Director
By Mary Callahan and Guy Kovner
April 17, 2019
|Attorney Joe George, left, and David Clohessy, the Missouri director of SNAP, speak about allegations of sexual abuse from two men against Rev. John Crews, a Catholic priest who is the former executive director of the Hanna Boys Center. Photo taken during a press conference outside St. Frances Solano Catholic Church in Sonoma, California on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (BETH SCHLANKER/The Press Democrat)|
Two past residents of the Hanna Boys Center have come forward to accuse former longtime Executive Director John S. Crews of repeatedly abusing them during their stays at the Sonoma Valley facility up to three decades ago.
A press conference Wednesday publicizing their complaints marked the first time Crews, a Catholic priest now living on the East Coast, has been accused publicly of criminal behavior while at the helm of the center for troubled boys. He worked there for 29 years and was relieved of his duties in 2013 after sexual misconduct allegations emerged against him from a former parishioner at St. Sebastian’s Church in Sebastopol.
David Anthony Ortega, a 33-year-old Seattle resident, said he was molested “on several occasions” at Crews’ house and in his van from 1999 to 2001.
In a letter released at the news conference, Ortega said he experienced “acts of abuse that were not only sexual but highly degrading, shameful and nothing that any little boy should have to ever had to live through.”
The consequences impacted his life for the next two decades, he said in an interview.
Joseph George, a Sacramento attorney representing Ortega and a second man who remained anonymous, said Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa had falsely reported in January — when he released the names of 39 priests and deacons who committed or were credibly accused of child sex abuse crimes — that Crews had not abused children at the center.
Vasa named Crews in his report but it included no accusations “directly associated with Hanna Center” since the agency has its own personnel policies.
George and David Clohessy of St. Louis, former executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on Vasa to correct his claim.
The two men held an impromptu press conference beside St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma to publicize the new abuse allegations.
Vasa informed members of his sprawling diocese in February that a new accusation had been raised against Crews during his tenure at the 74-year-old Catholic boys Center, a well-known nonprofit that has come under fire in recent years for deficient training and oversight and recently saw its former clinical director sent to prison for molesting three clients. The facility came close to having its license revoked last year and is now on probation.
In an update to the list of 39 accused priests released in January, Vasa noted in a column in the North Coast Catholic newsletter a new allegation raised against Crews was later reported to him by Hanna Boys Center. It was not clear Wednesday if it included either of the men represented at the press conference.
Vasa said he has subsequently been informed of at least two more additional accusers and said he planned to confront Crews, now a resident of North Carolina, and ask him to voluntarily seek a dismissal from the clergy.
Absent that, Vasa said he was prepared to write up a case for a canonical trial, after which the Vatican would determine if the case had been made for Crews’ dismissal, though he is no longer in the active ministry and has not been for six years, Vasa said.
“Ideally, if the priest admits that it happens, it makes it a lot easier,” the bishop said.
George represents the two new accusers, one using the pseudonym John Doe, who came forward when Crews was first publicly accused five years ago, days after the person he was accused of molesting died. The other, Ortega, came forward in response to a November appeal by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asking victims of clergy sexual abuse to make reports to his office.
At the press conference, George said two men, born 15 years apart, have both filed reports with Becerra’s office. John Doe, born in 1968, was allegedly abused as a teenager between 1984 and 1985.
In a telephone interview, Ortega said he spent 20 years following his time at the Hanna Center “trying to prove to myself that I was a man,” including involvement in gang activity.
He said he contacted George last year after his girlfriend encouraged him to speak about his past for the first time. Ortega, a hip hop artist and comedian, said it remains an embarrassment to reveal his abuse.
“No one wants to be that person,” he said. “That’s why the other guy is John Doe.”
But he also encouraged other victims to speak up.
“There’s no shame in being a victim. The shame is not speaking up and allowing abuse to continue.”
Ortega said he was not aware of sex abuse involving any other Hanna Center residents.
Hanna Boys Center officials declined a request for an interview Wednesday.
In a written statement, Tom Coughlan, the center’s chief development director, did not directly respond to the new allegations put forward Wednesday.
“Our practice, as is the law, is that any allegations are reported to law enforcement and our licensing body,” he said. “We are saddened and appalled by the seriousness of these allegations, and are, as we always will, cooperating and assisting law enforcement and other authorities with any and all investigations.”
Vasa said 10 additional allegations not previously known have been reported to the diocese since the release of the January list. They involve seven priests, all but one of them — Wilfred L. Sheehy — already named among the credibly accused.
All are dead except for Crews and Gary Timmons, a defrocked priest and registered sex offender who had more than a dozen accusers and served four years in state prison. Two new accusers have come forward against Timmons alleging sexual abuse from 1974 to 1977, Vasa said.
Sheehy, who died in 2014 at age 88, retired from the ministry in August 1989 after serving at churches in Santa Rosa, Arcata, Clearlake, St. Helena, Windsor, Crescent City and Middletown, according to his obituary.
He is accused of sexual abuse of minor from 1972 to 1977, Vasa said.
The bishop also added to the list a former Hanna Boys Center counselor named Joseph (Jesse) Gutierrez, a former member of the Christian Brothers who left the order in 1985, a year before he was dismissed by the Hanna Center. The allegation raised against him in recent months involved conduct in 1986, according to Vasa’s report, though it’s not clear if it occurred at the boys center or involved a client there.
Gutierrez was never employed by the diocese and was not in its records at the time he appeared on a list of accused personnel published by the Oakland Diocese.
Vasa said all the new allegations have been referred to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office and, when appropriate, to law enforcement jurisdictions where the alleged abuses occurred.
“I hope that people recognize that they’re painting me with this horribly tarred brush,” Vasa said in response to the claims that he had erred in the January list. “To the extent that it’s legitimate, fine. To the extent that it’s simply exaggeration and hyperbole, that does not serve their clients in my view, and it does not serve the kind of healing that the church is really looking for.”
Critics say the Catholic Church has, despite pronouncements by Pope Francis, not adequately addressed the international sex abuse scandal because it has yet to hold accountable bishops who covered up crimes against children.
George, who has represented about 250 church sex abuse victims in California, including about 20 in the Santa Rosa Diocese, said the statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit to recover damages resulting from childhood sex abuse was long passed for both men. But a bill now before state lawmakers would significantly extend that period.
George and Clohessy said they hoped other victims would file reports with the attorney general.
“We want to beg everybody, every single person who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes or cover-ups, to come forward and get help or file complaints,” Clohessy said. “Because there’s at least a chance that one more child will be spared a lifetime of trauma.”
“When victims or witnesses or whistle blowers stay silent, there is no chance.”
The Attorney General’s Office declined to say how many complaints it had received, saying it “cannot comment on, even to confirm or deny, a potential or ongoing investigation.”