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  Church Delayed Action on Sex Claim

By Suzanne Hoholik
San Antonio Express-News
June 24, 1998

A complaint of sexual deviance was filed against Father Jose Luis Sandoval in 1985, but the Archdiocese of San Antonio didn't act on it until several years later, a church official says.

That's when the priest was ordered to undergo a six-month "evaluation program," but there had not been any other complaints against him until recently.

Sandoval, 58, was pastor at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church until a second claim of sexual assault surfaced June 5 from a man who now is 33 years old and says the alleged incident happened 22 years ago. The priest has denied both allegations.

Monsignor Lawrence J. Stuebben, vicar general and director of administration of the archdiocese, informed parishioners at St. Alphonsus on Monday that Sandoval will no longer be pastor of the West Side church.

After Sandoval was informed on June 8 of the 33-year-old man's claim, the priest left San Antonio. His whereabouts are not known.

Stuebben said that in the early '90s, when officials learned of the 1985 complaint - made by a teen- ager from St. Patrick's Parish in Sabinal - they ordered Sandoval to be evaluated. The priest asked to go to Programa Genesis in Mexico City.

"He got back after that six- month program, and ... it was the opinion of the professor that worked with him that he could go back to pastoral ministry," Stuebben said.

"That was why he was assigned in 1995 to St. Alphonsus. We have not received any complaints after the '85 thing up until two weeks ago."

The recent complaint was lodged one day after the archdiocese announced a $4 million settlement in a civil suit filed by the families of seven boys who accused Father Xavier Ortiz-Dietz of sexual misconduct.

The 33-year-old man informed the archdiocese that Sandoval sexually assaulted him when he was an altar boy at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.

It was the Ortiz-Dietz case, filed in 1992, that alerted church officials to the 1985 claim against Sandoval.

"In 1993, we went through the personnel files of every priest in the archdiocese just to see if there was anything there we needed to be aware of," Stuebben said. "We found the complaint against Father Sandoval. This person - the 15-or 16-year-old - basically resisted the advance, but he did tell his father, who forwarded the complaint."

Since the creation of the crisis- intervention committee - which includes religious and lay people - in 1987, Stuebben said the archdiocese is taking a more proactive approach to sexual misconduct complaints.

All allegations against church employees are handed over to the committee and considered serious. After the accused and accuser are interviewed, the committee sends a recommendation to Archbishop Patrick Flores.

Harry Bates, an Austin lawyer who represented plaintiffs in the Ortiz-Dietz case, said although the archdiocese has improved its process, more needs to be done. "They need to go back and examine the priests that have been admitted to this diocese years ago, before they were doing any background checks or psychological evaluations," he said.

"In the position of trust that they're being placed in, that extensive background checks ought to be done before they're placed in a ministry where they will be around children."

Stuebben said despite a priest shortage in the church, Catholics can be assured all seminarians are well-screened.

"I work closely with the seminary, and there's nobody in the whole world who can look at this group of people and say, 'I know who the pedophiles are.' No one can do that," he said.

 
 

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