Priest Pleads Innocent in Molestation Case
Suspect Served at Fremont Church
By Robert Airoldi
April 10, 2002
A 56-year-old Roman Catholic priest, charged with molesting a 15-year-old boy at a Fremont parish in 1979, pleaded innocent Tuesday.
The Rev. Robert Freitas, who formerly served at Santa Paula Catholic Church in Fremont, was arrested Monday at St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in San Leandro, where he lives. He was charged Tuesday with one count of committing a lewd act on a child and one count of oral copulation on a child.
Police say they are investigating two other potential victims.
Superior Court Judge Donald Squires set bail at $50,000, denying a prosecutor's request for $300,000 bail. A bail bondsman was in the process of posting bond Tuesday afternoon and said Freitas could be released by this morning.
Freitas, whose brother and sister were in court Tuesday but declined to comment, is next scheduled to appear April 17.
The accusations against Freitas come as the Catholic church reels from numerous charges that its priests are molesting children.
"The sadness of the accusation weighs heavily on all of us," Bishop John Cummins said in a written statement released Tuesday by the Oakland Diocese. "I extend my profoundest regret and apologies to all who might have been harmed by the misconduct of Father Freitas."
The allegations surfaced after the alleged victim moved back to his parents' home in September. When his mother told him she saw Freitas celebrating Mass at the Sisters of the Holy Family, where she volunteers, "his face went blank," according to police reports. He then told her Freitas had abused him while he was active in the youth ministry at Santa Paula Church.
The mother repeatedly tried to get her son, now 38, to report the incidents, but was unsuccessful until about a month ago.
On March 12, 2001, the alleged victim called the Oakland Diocese. Sister Barbara Flannery, congregational president for the Sisters of the Holy Family, then called Fremont police, who initiated an investigation. Freitas was immediately removed from active ministry as chaplain at the Sisters of the Holy Family Mother House and barred from performing any priestly functions.
The investigation revealed that Freitas had molested at least two other victims in the early 1980s, according to police reports. One of those cases was settled in civil court.
After those incidents, Freitas was sent to a counseling center for priests. When the Rev. Paul Schmidt took over 10 years ago as personnel director of the Oakland Diocese, he learned Freitas was being kept in "limbo" because no one knew where to place him, according to the reports.
Freitas eventually was sent to St. Lawrence O'Toole Parish in Oakland for a short time, but he asked to be moved because he felt uncomfortable being so close to the school next door, according to the reports.
Schmidt said he believed Freitas had been rehabilitated and was ready to be placed. Freitas has been working at the AIDS Project in Oakland for the past seven years and celebrating Mass at the convent in Fremont.
Gagen said his client is devastated by the allegations.
"Any problems he may have had occurred in the late '70s," Gagen said after court. "There have been no allegations of any wrongdoing in the last 20 years."
On March 21, the victim told Fremont police his story.
In November or December 1979, Freitas performed oral sex on the victim in a closet as the boy was getting the priest's robe for Mass, according to police reports. After Mass, Freitas led the boy into his bedroom, locked the door and repeated the act, the report says.
Freitas also left gay pornographic magazines out on his bed where the boy would bring the money collected during Mass, according to the reports.
The second incident occurred several months later, it is alleged, while the two were on a church retreat in Santa Cruz.
The boy told Freitas he was having problems at home and said he thought he might be gay. When the boy started to cry, Freitas put his arms around him and started rubbing his back and chest, before reaching down and fondling him, according to the reports.
The boy said Freitas would fondle him at least twice a week, always before or after Mass.
During the investigation, police taped several phone calls between Freitas and the alleged victim and eventually the two met face to face.
During one of the taped phone calls, Freitas told the alleged victim he asked to be released from the priesthood two weeks before the call to the Oakland Diocese.
Freitas also said he had been in therapy for five years and "got myself together," according to the reports.
Police taped the two-hour meeting, which took place at an Irvington coffee house on March 27. During that conversation, Freitas admitted to other crimes, according to the reports, including one with another victim from Santa Paula Church.
The mother of the first alleged victim told police it made her sick to her stomach to watch Freitas celebrate Mass and Communion for the past six months.
"Here is a man we're supposed to trust," she told police.
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