Sex Allegation Forces Fourth Priest to Leave
In the Latest Case, an Associate Pastor at a Riverside Church Was Accused of Misconduct Involving a Minor
By Jenny Cardenas
Press Enterprise [Riverside, CA]
April 23, 1993
Calling it a "horrific coincidence," a diocese official disclosed yesterday that yet another priest has left a parish in the diocese, the fourth in the last seven months accused of sexual misconduct.
The Rev. Paul Nguyen, 45, an associate pastor at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Riverside, left the Lime Street parish in late February after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.
The alleged abuse occurred in January and was reported to church officials, who in turn reported it to the county Child Protection Agency, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
"We think this is a horrific coincidence," said Lincoln. The diocese has 99 churches and 200 priests.
Riverside police have no record of receiving a complaint from the county agency, and a social services spokesman said that he was prohibited by law from confirming details of any cases being investigated by the agency.
Nguyen was not a formal member of the diocese; he belonged to a Catholic diocese in Oslo, Norway, Lincoln said. He said he believes Nguyen is now living in Oslo.
Lincoln, who speaks on behalf of Bishop Phillip F. Straling, said he didn't disclose the Nguyen case to reporters earlier this week during interviews about the other priests because he was not specifically asked about it. A reporter, however, had asked him if there were any other such cases, and he said he decided to release the information yesterday because he wanted to be honest.
"Truth is better than evasion," he said, adding that church officials increasingly are feeling a duty to be open about such matters with their congregations and the media.
Lincoln said Nguyen's departure and the reason for it were announced to the St. Francis de Sales congregation in late February.
Lincoln said Straling has no idea why there have been four cases of alleged child sex abuse lodged in the last eight months, even though there was just one case before then in the diocese's 15-year history. Through Lincoln, the bishop said it was an unexplainable occurrence.
The subject of priests allegedly being involved in sexual contacts with children is an unpleasant and frightening reality, Lincoln said. "But now I think more and more you're going to see churches confronting these things. " Lincoln said two factors may be contributing to the cases surfacing in the local diocese and within other churches and denominations elsewhere: First, a recent trend of high-profile cases and national media attention about priests and church leaders having sex with children may be causing people, some of them young adults, to step forward with long-suppressed stories of how they were preyed upon as minors.
Second, Lincoln said, the issue of child molestation in society generally has been given greater attention in recent years, and the public has a heightened awareness and consciousness about the subject.
The Rev. Louis Marx, pastor at St. Francis de Sales, would not comment on the matter.
Andrew W. Greeley, a Chicago-based writer and former priest well-respected by clerics, wrote last month that as many as 2,000 priests in the U. S. may be abusers.
In his article for the magazine America, Greeley notes that last year, when the Archdiocese of Chicago reviewed cases of allegations of sex abuse by priests in the preceding 25 years, it found 39 cases had merit. That number represents 5 percent of the priests active in that archdiocese over the last 25 years.
Although some had died or left the priesthood, 21 were removed from active duty and will not be sent to parishes, Greeley wrote.
Greeley wrote "Fall From Grace," a novel about sexual abuse by the clergy. "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," a recently-published book by Jason Berry of New Orleans, reports 400 Catholic priests and brothers are the subjects of child sex abuse allegations.
Berry and Glendale psychologist Devora Lockton said child sex abuse has only been recognized as a serious problem in the last decade, and as cases against relatives grow, allegations against members of the clergy will follow.
"There are cases breaking literally every week," Berry said.
It was also disclosed this week that Brother Gregory Atherton of Friar Servants of Mary has been accused in an Orange County lawsuit of molesting three youths at various times between about 1967 and 1986.
Critics should consider that the Catholic Church is part of society and that like society at large, it has come to grips with the problem of child sex abuse only in the last decade, said the Rev. Jerry McCarthy, a teacher at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo.
Disclosures nationwide about allegations against priests have scared priests, said Lincoln, the spokesman for the local diocese.
He said that he and others will not touch a child at all unless the child's parent is present.
The U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops will decide this year what to do with priests who are the subjects of sex abuse cases with merit, said Lincoln.
Meanwhile, the cases of three priests are being reviewed by a panel within the church. In addition to Nguyen, the priests are: o Rev. James Stauber, 58, who resigned his pastorship of St.
John's Catholic Church in Rubidoux in February after an allegation was made that he had sex with a minor; o The Rev. Rudi Gil, pastor at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Lake Elsinore, left his post earlier this month after he was accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with a minor six years ago. Parishioners at a Wednesday church meeting demanded his reinstatement.
• Last September, the Rev. Edward Ball of Our Lady of Fatima Church in San Bernardino left the church after he was charged in court with four felony counts of committing lewd acts with a child.
Ball pleaded guilty and is now serving a state prison sentence, Lincoln said.
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