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  Judge Says Catholic Church Could Have Prevented Priest's Sex Crimes

By Steve Green
United Press International [Boise, Idaho]
January 24, 1985

The Catholic Church is partly to blame for sex crimes committed against boys by a priest over a 20-year period, a judge said Wednesday before sentencing the Rev. Mel Baltazar to seven years in prison for lewd conduct with an Idaho youth.

Judge Alan Schwartzmann said he was shocked and disgusted to learn Baltazar's church supervisors at various locations throughout the world knew of his sexual acts with boys, but failed to halt the crimes.

"I think the Catholic Church has its atonement to do," said Schwartzmann, a 4th District judge.

"They helped to create you and hopefully they will help to rehabilitate you," he told Baltazar.

Baltazar, 50, pleaded guilty last year to lewd conduct with a 15-year-old boy who is receiving psychological treatment because of the incident and whose parents are considering suing Baltazar, the church and St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, where as a chaplain Baltazar met the boy.

Prosecutors had sought a 30-day jail sentence, but changed their request to a prison term after a court investigator discovered Baltazar had engaged in illegal sex with boys throughout the world during the past 20 years.

Bishop Sylvester W. Treinen, head of the Catholic Church in Boise, declined to comment on the case Wednesday, but the head of the Idaho Catholic Communications Center said he was surprised a judge would condemn the church for Baltazar's acts.

"I'm kind of shocked a judge would make a public condemnation like that," said Rev. David Riffle. "It's something like condemning the legal system because of a few bad cases of law, and we've had a few cases of that in Idaho."

The pre-sentence report — described by lawyers and the judge as the most thorough they had ever seen — detailed Baltazar's sexual activities with youths in the Phillipines, Cleveland and other U.S. cities as a priest and hospital and Navy chaplain.

Schwartzmann ordered the pre-sentence report sealed, but read portions of the document before sentencing Baltazar.

"After reading this report I have a profound sense of grief and absolute shock and outrage," he said, noting Baltazar usually chose as sex partners destitute, homeless or mentally disturbed young boys.

The report said Catholic Church officials suspected Baltazar was abusing boys as early as 1966 in Cleveland, but failed to notify police.

"If this scandal had surfaced at that time, something could have been done to prevent this situation," the judge said.

While a Navy chaplain from 1969 to 70, Baltazar was placed on report for being gay and leading a boy into a life of homosexuality, the judge said.

The boy — now a man — still sees Baltazar, said Schwartzmann. Schwartzmann said Baltazar received a discharge under honorable conditions from the Navy, and then as a priest in the Phillipines from 1971 to 1976 he continued to abuse boys.

"It's somewhat incredible the Phillipine bishopric knew about this and didn't do anything about it," the judge said.

"You've gotten away so many times with acts of moral turptitude one must wonder what went wrong," Schwartzmann told Baltazar.

The judge did not indicate how many illegal sex acts were mentioned in the report, but said "one gets a sense this is the tip of the iceberg."

Baltazar's lawyer, Howard Manweiler, agreed Baltazar should be ordered to serve time in prison.

But, he argued, "This man has done an awful lot of good for an awful lot of people."

A doctor testified Baltazar could be treated for his sexual disorder at a New Mexico facility operated by the Catholic Church for sexually disturbed priests.

But Dr. Jay Feierman, medical director of Vista Sandia Hospital, Albuquerque, said Baltazar should be imprisoned before entering the treatment program.

Feierman, who counsels priests with sexual disorders, said Baltazar's prognosis without imprisonment and treatment is "horrible."

"He would re-offend with a 100-percent probability," the doctor said.

Schwartzmiller ordered Baltazar to serve a maximum of seven years in prison, but the judge reserved the right to modify the sentence later.

He suggested Baltazar seek treatment at the New Mexico facility.

Riffle said he did not believe the Boise Catholic Church knew of Baltazar's past when he came to the capital city.

"To my knowledge, none of us were aware Baltazar had this kind of record or background," he said.

 
 

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