Sex Tapes Haunt Pedophile Priest
By Hugh Aynesworth
May 14, 1991
New Orleans - A Catholic priest who has admitted that for several years he videotaped and photographed sexual and dope-smoking trysts with young boys in a church rectory is now being investigated by state and federal authorities.
Thanks to the more than 160 hours of videotapes of the trysts that have been discovered, federal authorities say the unwinding - and amazingly unpublicized - story may prove to be the most documented case of pedophilia involving a religious figure in this country.
The Rev. Dino Cinel, 49, who served at St. Rita's Church in New Orleans from 1979 through 1988, has admitted in a sworn deposition that he sexually molested a number of youths. The priest acknowledged, too, that he sent some photos he took of one of the trysts to a Danish pornographic publication.
But no charges have been filed against Father Cinel, nor has his story surfaced in any media outlet.
Even without publicity, however, rumors of the case's existence have permeated the New Orleans area, which is about 40 percent Roman Catholic.
On April 25, a federal grand jury here subpoenaed four large boxes of suspected pornographic materials found in the Italian-born priest's quarters in the rectory and obtained statements from people close to the matter.
The slim, bespectacled Father Cinel, who said several Masses a week and counseled novitiates at St. Rita's, had been a professor of history at Tulane University since 1979. He left there last fall.
Stripped of his priestly duties and forced to leave St. Rita's after the videotapes were discovered, Father Cinel remained on the faculty of nearby Tulane for nearly two more years. He married another Tulane professor and then left the faculty.
Father Cinel is now teaching at City University of New York-Staten Island, though friends have reported he has been in New Orleans "off and on" handling the sale of a $197,000 home.
Telephone calls to Father Cinel both at the university and at his Staten Island home drew no response.
The probe began after the materials accidentally were found by another priest at St. Rita's rectory - the three-story building that houses the church's priests. The rectory is a block from the archdiocese headquarters, where Pope John Paul II stayed during his visit in 1987.
Church officials kept the tapes and related materials - such as still photographs, audio tapes and movies - for 90 days before handing them over to the district attorney for possible criminal prosecution.
The archdiocese turned over to authorities 51 videotapes, containing more than 160 hours of sexual activity featuring seven different boys with Father Cinel, according to documents provided by the church to the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office.
District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., who originally declined to prosecute, said yesterday he reopened an investigation because of newly acquired information.
Mr. Connick said the U.S. Attorney's Office had an active investigation of the case, but U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg said it was Justice Department policy to neither confirm nor deny a probe. Investigators for the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Postal Service also have interviewed those familiar with the case.
In the August deposition, Father Cinel admitted he sustained a two-year sexual involvement at the rectory with a youth considered mildly retarded who underwent extensive psychiatric counseling after discovering erotic pictures of himself in the Danish magazine.
Father Cinel admitted sending pictures of Christopher Fontaine to a firm in Denmark for publication in a magazine titled Dreamboy U.S.A. The priest swore he received no money for the pictures or from any other such transactions.
Father Cinel said in his deposition he had been sexually involved with young boys in the San Francisco area - where he worked for several years toward a doctorate at Stanford University. He said he had similar liaisons in Montreal, New York and elsewhere.
Father Cinel said he videotaped his sexual companions "for my own enjoyment later." He talked of several years of such activity - and in some cases vigorously defended it.
He said he had taken at least four boys up to his third-floor quarters at St. Rita's for sex.
During his deposition, Father Cinel admitted he had sustained a two-year sexual involvement with the plaintiff in the civil lawsuit - Mr. Fontaine, a 24-year-old carpenter.
Mr. Fontaine, of suburban Kenner, met and was wooed by Father Cinel in 1982.
Mr. Fontaine's attorneys claim that their client is mentally retarded and that Father Cinel made considerable money from selling pictures of him as pornographic art.
When he met Father Cinel, Mr. Fontaine had just been released from Hope Haven, a Catholic Charities-run home for troubled youth, according to both men. Mr. Fontaine has since married, had two children and divorced.
When he left the home in March of 1982, a report said the youth, then 17, was functioning on a second- to fourth-grade level.
Mr. Fontaine said he did not feel "quite right" about the sexual involvement but felt that there was a "general acceptance" by the other four priests who shared the third floor of the rectory.
Mr. Fontaine said Father Cinel got him a job at Tulane and moved him into the rectory after a few weeks. He said he shared the priest's bed, often slipped downstairs to the kitchen to make a midnight snack and occasionally ran into the other priests.
Mr. Fontaine said yesterday that he stayed with the priest three or four nights a week for six to nine months. Father Cinel agreed with the statements in the deposition.
A second youth, who has not sued and would speak only if his name was not published, said he, too, had such an affair and that he spent "hundreds" of nights with the priest - both in the rectory and at a camp the priest owned in Kiln, Miss.
That youth is now in his early 20s and lives in Florida. He said he was only 13 when Father Cinel first seduced him.
Mr. Fontaine said he left angrily when Father Cinel urged him to "make it a threesome" with the aforementioned boy.
"They tried to prove a lot of things when they talked to Fontaine," snapped W.D. Atkins, the priest's attorney. "The DA's investigators tried to get him to say several things about Dino's involvement in several areas, but he couldn't, because he didn't know of anything. There isn't anything.
"As far as him being retarded, bull! He's a little hustler and he always was," he added.
Mr. Connick said he had heard charges that his office "covered up" the case at the request of the church, but he denied that.
"Mother church did not ask me to handle this case in any special way whatever," he said. "I never talked to the church. I was contacted by a priest and told what they had found."
The Times obtained a copy of an April 14, 1989, letter written to Mr. Connick's chief investigator in which a lawyer representing the local archdiocese explained that the church felt compelled to turn over Father Cinel's materials but did not want it construed as urging prosecution of the priest.
"It was our considered judgment," the letter said in part, "that the Archdiocese could not appropriately either return these materials to Dr. Cinel or retain their possession, or destroy them without some possibility of adverse consequences."
This letter was 16 weeks after the discovery of the materials and two weeks - according to Mr. Connick - after he first learned of the situation in a phone call from a priest.
Archbishop Francis Bible Schulte refused to be interviewed on the subject yesterday. The archdiocese spokesman, Tom Phinney, said, "Church lawyers have informed us we cannot discuss that case; otherwise we would have no problem."
Mr. Atkins said yesterday he did not know where the priest was, but expected to hear from him by Friday. Mr. Atkins said Father Cinel owed him approximately $30,000 in legal fees and he gave him until Friday to make arrangments to pay.
"If he doesn't make arrangements, I will file a motion to withdraw," he added.
Mr. Atkins said his client was the victim in the case and said he was guilty of being "homosexual, nothing more."
Mr. Atkins said the church "shot itself in the foot, as usual," by paying money for Mr. Fontaine's psychiatric care when the youth first broke down after seeing his pictures in the Danish magazine.
After originally paying about $40,000, the archdiocese has since refused any more payments.
Father Cinel's sexually explicit materials were discovered after a woman friend drove him to New Orleans International Airport on Dec. 29, 1988, where he caught a plane for Italy.
When she accidentally locked the keys in the automobile, she called the rectory and asked another priest to go into Father Cinel's room to find a second set of keys.
Within minutes the materials had been found - and church officials began discussions on what to do with them.
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