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  Center Was Picked to House Offenders
Los Gatos Jesuit Home Used in Attempt to Shield Public

By Brandon Bailey and Kate Folmar
San Jose Mercury News
March 30, 2002

There's a reason why convicted sex offenders lived among the clergy at the Sacred Heart retirement center in Los Gatos: Over the years, Jesuit officials say, it has been viewed as a logical place to house members who were unsuitable for assignments at a school or church where they might come in contact with potential victims.

The center, which is perched on a hillside overlooking Santa Clara Valley, serves as a retirement and medical center for about 65 Jesuit Roman Catholic priests and brothers.

It was thrust into the spotlight this week by reports that two mentally retarded kitchen workers had been molested there, and that its residents have recently included two priests and two Jesuit brothers who have been convicted of sex-related crimes.

In at least some cases, according to the Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, the order's top official in California, those members have no other place to go. And if the kitchen workers choose to leave, Jesuit officials say they would consider assigning sex offenders to live at Sacred Heart in the future.

As with other religious denominations and society at large, leaders of the Jesuit order say they have wrestled with what to do with sex offenders. But unlike many other clergy, Jesuits take a vow of poverty. And their leaders are reluctant to simply eject a member, particularly an elderly Jesuit who may have no means of support.

"We need to have a place where older men can live out their lives and not put anyone at risk," Smolich said. He described the Sacred Heart center, the primary retirement home for Jesuits in five Western states, as a place where the order provides "supervision and limited contact for people with these issues."

But if the Los Gatos center is not directly attached to a school or church, it also is not an isolation ward.

Jesuit leaders acknowledged the two mentally retarded men, who live at the center, were victimized by at least two clergymen who also lived there.

Brother Charles Leonard Connor pleaded no contest last year to committing a lewd act on one of the men. The Rev. Edward Thomas Burke has not been prosecuted, although records show he admitted having sexual contact with the other kitchen worker.

In addition, attorneys for the two victims have alleged that at least two other clergymen victimized the kitchen workers, although Smolich said officials have found no evidence to substantiate that.

And in a separate case, court records show that a Jesuit brother was living at the center when he molested a 7-year-old girl in Los Gatos.

Brother John Rodrigues Moniz, now 80, was convicted in 1995 of lewd conduct with a minor, whom he befriended after becoming acquainted with her mother. He was sentenced to three years' probation. Smolich said the Jesuits arranged for him to be housed in a residential treatment center for sex offenders in Missouri, where he is today.

In the case of the kitchen workers, Jesuit officials have acknowledged that they should have taken more decisive action. Despite evidence that some officials were aware something was happening in 1995, the acts allegedly occurred until 2000 when a friend of the retarded men got police to intervene.

In the case of Moniz, Smolich said the elderly brother had developed signs of mental illness before he came to the center, but there was no reason to suspect he was a threat to children. Smolich said he hasn't found any warning signs that Connor, Burke or Moniz were involved in any previous sexual misconduct with other victims.

On the other hand, Smolich acknowledged that he couldn't be certain there were no previous incidents that went unreported, especially since church policies for dealing with such problems have been far from rigorous in the past.

In at least two cases, Jesuits were relocated to Sacred Heart after being accused of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Angel Mariano had been a pastor at Most Holy Trinity Church in San Jose when he was caught having sex with a 17-year-old boy in a parked car four years ago. Smolich said Mariano was removed from his church post and assigned to Sacred Heart while his case moved through the courts.

After serving five months in jail, Mariano completed a treatment program for sex offenders in Maryland. Since then, he has been living under supervision at a Jesuit residential facility near Santa Clara University.

Another Sacred Heart resident, the Rev. James Thomas Monaghan, was convicted of committing a lewd act on a 7-year-old girl in 1992, when he was a pastor at St. Ignatius parish in Sacramento. Smolich said Monaghan, 87, has been at Sacred Heart since then; he is in poor health and is housed in the center's infirmary.

In many ways, the Jesuits are wrestling with a problem that all of society faces.

Responding to worries about high recidivism among convicted sex offenders, California and about 20 other states have enacted laws allowing for "civil commitments" of sex criminals after they've served their time.

Under California's 1996 law, violent sex offenders may be sent to a state hospital after incarceration if authorities can prove they are a danger to others. But not every offender fits that category.

There are also residential treatment programs, including a handful nationally that are geared toward clergy. But space is limited.

Experts say that not every offender needs to be locked up in a jail or medical ward for life. Many sex offenders can be effectively treated as outpatients with a combination of medication and therapy, said psychologist Al Cooper of the San Jose Marital & Sexuality Centre.

But that still leaves religious orders in a dilemma, said Thomas Plante, a psychologist at Santa Clara University who has counseled clergy from a variety of denominations.

"You sure don't want to be putting these folks in the parochial schools as teachers or coaches," he said.

"I'm not saying that Sacred Heart is necessarily the place, but when you look around, there's not a lot of alternatives."

 
 

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