Priest Held on California Sex Charges
Visiting Cleric Wanted in Child Molesting Case
By Sabrina L. Miller
November 2, 1995
A Catholic priest from California was being held Wednesday in Cook County Jail on 17 counts of felony sexual misconduct with minors in Sonoma County, Calif.
Rev. Gary Timmons, 56, who was enrolled at the Institute of Spiritual Leadership in Hyde Park in a program to help students become better spiritual leaders, was arrested Tuesday and was being held on $750,000 bond. The charges against Timmons include lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under the age of 14.
Timmons is expected to be extradited to California later this week, said Lt. Mike Brown of the sheriff's department in Sonoma County, about 40 miles north of San Francisco.
A warrant for Timmons' arrest was issued Friday in California after three men, now age 19, 30 and 33, told police that Timmons molested them when they were children. The 19-year-old was 7 when the alleged abuse took place.
"He apparently didn't give us all the information that he should have before he was admitted," said Mary Ann Farmer, a member of the Institute of Spiritual Leadership's board of directors. But staff members and the eight-member board were aware that Timmons had been accused of molesting children, Farmer said.
The institute's program is designed to help students become better counselors and ministers by better understanding themselves, Farmer said. The school accepts 30 to 32 students each year and tuition is about $13,000.
Timmons has been embroiled in legal entanglements concerning his involvement with children in California for almost two years. In addition to the criminal charges, Timmons was accused in a civil suit filed by nine men in February 1994 who said he molested them as minors at a summer camp Timmons founded when he was pastor of St. Eugene Catholic Church in Santa Rosa, Calif. He was removed from his position at St. Bernard's parish in Eureka, Calif., and sent to a church-run residential treatment program when the allegations first became public.
Timmons had been in therapy for 20 months and was banned from public ministering and from having contact with children, said Bishop Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa.
"We thought the institute would be good for him because part of therapy is to begin to plan your future life," Ziemann said. "I was shocked when I found out criminal charges had been filed against him because they never had been before now."
Criminal charges were sought against Timmons when the sexual misconduct allegations first came to light in February 1994, but they were dismissed because of a lack of evidence.
"But this time, we had three separate young men who could provide a time line and specifics about what this man did to them," Brown said.
The Archdiocese of Chicago issued a statement Wednesday distancing itself from Timmons and the Institute for Spiritual Leadership, which officials said is not affiliated with the archdiocese. The archdiocese, itself no stranger to controversy concerning sexual misconduct of priests, said it had no knowledge of any criminal charges against Timmons until learning of his arrest.
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote to the bishop of Santa Rosa when he learned in September that Timmons was studying in Chicago. Bernardin said the archdiocese should have been notified of Timmons' presence.
Notification of a priest's arrival is only required if the priest is going to be working within the archdiocese, said Chancellor Rev. Thomas Paprocki.
"It was confirmed that he would not be doing any ministry," Paprocki said. "But it would have been helpful if we would have known more about this case."
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