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  Priest's Duties Long Limited, Diocese Says
Cleric Accused of Molesting Hasn't Worked with Children since 1985

By Chuck Squatriglia
San Francisco Chronicle
April 12, 2002

A Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting a teenage Fremont parishioner in 1979 has not worked with children since 1985, when the Diocese of Oakland barred him from such duties after two boys complained of sexual abuse, the diocese said yesterday.

The church did not notify police but conducted an internal investigation of the two boys' complaints, quietly settling the cases in part by paying one of the purported victims, said Sister Barbara Flannery, diocese chancellor. Church officials then ordered the Rev. Robert Freitas to undergo counseling and allowed him to return to the diocese with restrictions.

"The prognosis was that at the completion of his therapy he would not offend again, that it was not a case of pedophilia or ephebophilia but of arrested development and that he had worked through it," Flannery said. "It was recommended that he be placed in limited ministry."

Freitas, 56, has in the years since heeded orders from the diocese prohibiting contact with children, Flannery said. He has spent much of the past decade doing clerical work for an Oakland nonprofit organization that serves AIDS patients and ministering to retired nuns.

Flannery said the diocese first heard of the 1979 allegations last month when a Fremont man told Flannery that the longtime priest molested him in 1979 and 1980. The 37-year-old man, who was 15 at the time of the alleged molestation, attended the now-defunct Santa Paula Church in Fremont.

In this case, the diocese immediately notified Fremont police and stripped Freitas of all ministerial duties.

Alameda County authorities on Tuesday charged Freitas with one count each of committing a lewd act upon a child and oral copulation with a child under 16. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $50,000 bail.

Court documents reveal that the purported victim secretly recorded for police a conversation in which Freitas is said to have confessed.

Freitas' attorney, Bill Gagen of Danville, said the tape includes threatening comments from the purported victim and suggests that Freitas does not remember the alleged actions ever having taken place.

"I think what it will probably show is there was a conversation taking place, but I doubt it will amount to any kind of confession," Gagen said.

Police also are investigating the possibility that there are as many as four more victims but have declined to elaborate. Flannery said the Fremont man mentioned two other possible victims while reporting his own allegations. The diocese had no record of them but passed along the man's information to investigators, she said.

The other possible victims stem from the 1985 case, in which two teenage parishioners at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Union City accused Freitas of molesting them, Flannery said.

Flannery said the diocese investigated the boys' claims and paid one boy an undisclosed settlement. The other boy wanted only to ensure that Freitas was punished, she said.

Flannery said she had no further details of those allegations, the resulting investigation or of Freitas' 30-year career with the diocese because investigators have seized his personnel files.

Gagen also could not provide details because he had not seen his client's files.

The 1985 investigation prompted the diocese to remove Freitas from the parish and order him into therapy. He spent six months at a treatment center for clergy in Massachusetts and received five years of local outpatient treatment, Gagen said.

Flannery said Freitas' treatment convinced the diocese that he was no longer a threat.

Upon his return, diocese officials assigned Freitas to clerical work at an Oakland nonprofit that serves AIDS patients. Flannery said he spent "seven or eight years, maybe even longer" in that post.

Several years ago, Freitas asked to return to ministry work. Diocese officials felt his history precluded placing him in a parish, so they made him chaplain of Sisters of the Holy Family Motherhouse, a retirement home for nuns, Flannery said.

Freitas also spent several years living in the rectory at St. Lawrence O'Toole Church in Oakland, which is the site of an elementary school, but obeyed strict orders to avoid the school, Flannery said. He was later moved to St. Alphonsus Liguori Church in San Leandro.

 
 

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