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  Abuse Claim Dropped in Priest's Case
Officials Offer Varied Stories of Investigation

By Jenny Cardenas
Press Enterprise
April 24, 1993

Riverside — A Riverside police detective briefly investigated an allegation of sexual misconduct against a priest at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, but closed the case when a church official told him the alleged victim's parents preferred counseling to prosecution, Lt. Rick Albee said yesterday.

The confirmation that police had looked into the allegation against the Rev. Paul Nguyen is contrary to what the Riverside Police Department reported Thursday, when a spokesman said no report had been made.

And police and the diocese offer differing accounts of how the allegation was reported to police.

Nguyen was accused in late January or February of sexual misconduct with a minor, alleged to have occurred in January. The priest, who is on administrative leave, left the Riverside parish in February and is in Oslo, Norway. Nguyen is the fourth priest in seven months to leave the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. The diocese includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Nguyen left the country without being charged by police or disciplined by the diocese. A diocese review of the allegation is under way.

On Thursday, the police department issued a statement saying that it had not received a complaint about Nguyen and therefore had not opened an investigation.

However, Albee said yesterday that the diocese had in fact reported to police that Nguyen was being accused of touching a child improperly. A detective, whom Albee declined to name, started a file on the case but quickly ended the investigation, Albee said.

He said he only discovered yesterday morning that there had been a report taken.

Albee said he had not seen the case file. He said that the information he had came from a conversation yesterday with the detective, who is assigned to investigate child abuse reports.

According to Albee, the detective received a written communication reporting the suspected abuse in late January or early February from Msgr. Dan Webber, who supervises the diocese reviews on misconduct allegations.

During a subsequent telephone conver sation, Webber minimized the alleged misconduct, calling it "very minor," "a second-long touch that may have been an accident" and "not a big deal," Albee said.

In addition, Albee said, Webber told the detective that the family was not interested in pressing charges and that they demanded anonymity. The family wanted to handle the incident by receiving counseling from the diocese, Albee said Webber told the detective.

Since Webber was the reporting party, the detective believed there was no reason to suspect that he wasn't mischaracterizing the case, Albee said.

Albee said the police department has the responsibility to investigate a case even when a victim is uncooperative, but that, in this case, it would not have been possible to prosecute without the cooperation of the minor's parents.

The diocese has a different account of how the allegation was reported to police.

Diocese spokesman, the Rev. Howard Lincoln, said the Rev. Louis Marx, pastor of St. Francis, reported the suspected abuse to Riverside County child welfare authorities Feb. 5. Lincoln said he was unaware of any written report to the police from Webber, and said if it exists the diocese would like to see it.

Lincoln said Webber called the detective on Feb. 17 to inquire about the status of the case, because he wanted to determine whether Nguyen would need an attorney to defend him against criminal charges.

The detective told Webber he would contact the family to complete documentation of the case, Lincoln said.

'Webber said that he probably did say to police that it was his understanding that the family didn't want to press charges," Lincoln said, but added that it was not Webber's intention to convince the detective to end the investigation.

Albee said that when newspaper stories began to appear this week about priests resigning from their parishes because of sexual misconduct allegations, the detective called the alleged victim's family, just in case they wanted to talk to him.

"The family did not want police involvement, and we are not going to get involved. We do not have any reason to believe it is not being handled satisfactorily at this time," Albee said.

Albee said he planned to review the case file Monday to determine with more certainty why the detective didn't pursue the investigation.

In addition to Nguyen, allegations have been disclosed against the Rev. Rudi Gil, pastor of St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Lake Elsinore; the Rev. Edward Ball of Our Lady of Fatima Church in San Bernardino; and the Rev. James Stauber, pastor of St. John's Catholic Church in Rubidoux.

Stauber resigned in February after an allegation surfaced that he had sex with a minor 22 years ago. Gil, who once served at St. Edward's in Corona, resigned this month following allegations he has sex with a minor six years ago, and his parishioners have demanded his reinstatement. Ball, who left the church in September, pleaded guilty to four felony counts of committing lewd acts with a child and is serving a state prison sentence.

 
 

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