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  Priest Accused of Molesting Teens Leaves Bonham Parish
He's at Therapy Center but Hasn't Been Charged


By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
October 24, 1998

A Dallas Catholic Diocese priest accused of molesting teenagers has left his parish and entered a therapy center that treats sexual, chemical, financial and other addictions.

The Rev. Jose Saldana moved a few weeks ago from his parish in Bonham, about 70 miles north of Dallas, Deacon Joseph Culling said Friday. He said the priest told parishioners that he was going to a clinic for treatment of medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Father Saldana, 47, declined to comment from the center in St. Louis, which does not treat the medical problems he described. He isn't known to be facing any criminal or civil charges - only allegations made to and scrutinized by diocesan personnel.

Diocesan spokeswoman Lisa LeMaster wouldn't discuss those allegations. She said Father Saldana was granted a leave of absence and retains all his priestly powers.

"He said the burden of scrutiny caused him to ask for personal leave and that the stress had weakened his medical condition," Ms. LeMaster said. A letter to Bishop Charles V. Grahmann said that "his intention was to remove himself from this diocese" permanently, she added.

Mr. Culling said he didn't believe the abuse allegations, which date to Father Saldana's mid-1980s service in Ferris. But he also said he didn't expect Father Saldana - at least the seventh Dallas Diocese priest to be accused of molestation in recent years - to return.

"Everybody is pretty supportive of him" in Bonham, where about 200 people attend Mass at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, he said. "They hated to see him go."

Stephanie Reiter, director of religious education at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in the Ellis County town of Ferris, said a young man told her this year that Father Saldana had abused him more than a decade ago. She said she referred the man to diocese officials and that they investigated for months before the priest left his Bonham job.

"They actually used the system they said they were going to use" in the wake of the sexual abuse lawsuit against the diocese and former priest Rudy Kos, Ms. Reiter said. She said the young man who made the allegations against Father Saldana has sought help in paying for therapy and does not want to be identified.

Diocese officials, while refusing to discuss Father Saldana's current situation, acknowledge that they knew about another molestation allegation against him while he was in Ferris. They have said they could not take action because that alleged victim, 15 at the time, would not cooperate with an investigation.

His mother said she told the officials that she feared the priest had abused her son. And according to testimony heard outside the jury's presence in the Kos civil trial last year, one of the woman's relatives also reported the same suspicions in writing to the Rev. Robert Rehkemper, then the diocese's No. 2 official.

The relative, Lupe Juarez, testified that she had threatened in her note to go to the media if Father Saldana wasn't removed. Monsignor Rehkemper, she said, soon called her and "he stated - I remember two things. One was that maybe he - this priest - had been doing these things before, but that he wasn't doing them anymore, and that they couldn't move him from there because they didn't have anyone to replace him with."

Monsignor Rehkemper also said "that he had talked to another person in Ferris and that she liked Father Saldana and she didn't think that any of these things that we were saying about him were true," Ms. Juarez testified. "And he, you know, kind of tended to believe her."

Monsignor Rehkemper, now working in a small Arkansas parish, could not be reached for comment Friday. After the Kos civil trial ended last year with the largest clergy-abuse judgment in history, the monsignor was forced to resign from a North Dallas church because of remarks he made in an interview with The Dallas Morning News .

Mr. Kos' victims and their parents, the monsignor said, were partly to blame for the former priest's crimes. Mr. Kos is now serving a life sentence in state prison; he is the only one of the seven priests accused of molestation to have faced criminal charges.

Ms. Juarez testified that after she spoke with Monsignor Rehkemper, Father Saldana was transferred to another parish and the state Child Protective Services agency investigated. CPS officials have said they have no record of such an investigation and don't retain records for long if an inquiry substantiates nothing.

In an interview with The News , the mother of the 15-year-old said her son was suicidal after an encounter with Father Saldana and wouldn't talk to anyone about what had happened.

Her son, she said, had found himself alone at the rectory with the priest after being summoned for what was supposed to be a meeting of altar boys. After later calling her in a panic for a ride home, he jumped in the car, briefly described waking up on the floor and finding evidence of possible abuse, then refused to elaborate, the mother said.

The youth, now in his late 20s, is serving a state prison sentence for molesting a girl. He did not respond to a written interview request.

In an interview, the youth's brother said Father Saldana sometimes showed movies - at least one of them sexually explicit - to groups of altar boys at the Ferris rectory. The priest would lie on his bed wearing only underwear or a robe, he said.

The brother said he was uncomfortable at the gatherings and quit going after other boys found a sex toy in the room.

Father Saldana has served in nearly a dozen parishes - in the Dallas, Fort Worth and Tyler dioceses - since being ordained a priest 20 years ago.

In addition to Bonham and Ferris, they include St. Cecilia, St. Augustine and St. Pius X in Dallas; St. Michael in Mount Pleasant; St. Luke in Irving; St. Joseph in Rhineland; St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth; and Good Shepherd in Garland.

 
 

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