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  Accused Reverend near Kids
Probe: a Lawsuit Was Settled in 1996 Concerning a Priest Who Now Lives at a Riverside Seminary

By Scott Farwell
Press Enterprise [Riverside, CA]
April 27, 2002

One of the 20 priests being investigated for child molestation lives in a Riverside church complex used by high school students for overnight retreats.

The Rev. Joe Fertal, who was accused of molesting a 17-year-old catechism student in 1995, now lives at the Society of the Divine Word's seminary, which is operated under the auspices of the San Bernardino Diocese.

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, diocese spokesman, confirmed Friday that the complaint against Fertal was among those turned over to police for investigation.

Lincoln said the diocese and Fertal's religious order have agreed to ask Fertal to move because "we did not feel it is an appropriate environment because young people are on the property."

The Very Rev. Eamonn Donnelly, head of the Western province of the Society of the Divine Word, said no decision has been made about Fertal's future, but he may be asked to voluntarily leave the priesthood.

Fertal, 71, said Friday he will obey a request from his superiors to relocate. If asked to leave the priesthood, he said he would "talk it over" with church leaders.

Fertal has lived at the retirement center since 1995. His quarters are less than 50 yards away from a two-story building that serves as an overnight retreat for young people from Inland churches and Catholic schools. On Friday, more than 25 students from Aquinas High School in San Bernardino studied on mattresses in dormitory-style bedrooms during the final hours of a four-day stay.

Fertal said he is prohibited from visiting the retreat, and in seven years, has never interacted with any young people. He also denies that he molested a teen-age boy while a priest at St. Edward Church in Corona.

A lawsuit against Fertal, the diocese and the seminary was settled out of court in 1996. The terms are secret.

"No, I didn't do it," Fertal said Friday. "The diocese just wanted it to go away so they paid them off. They do whatever they can to make sure the bishop isn't deposed."

Lincoln would not respond specifically to Fertal's charge, other than to say, "Father Fertal speaks for himself, and we will let the facts of the case speak for themselves."

Lincoln did say the church's reputation has been tarnished by cases such as Fertal's.

"We recognize people are offended by secrecy," he said. "We recognize people are offended by the appearance that we are more concerned about the scandal and the reputation of the church than we are about children."

Donnelly defended his decision to allow Fertal to live near the retreat center.

"'We have to trust that he understands the gravity of the situation and avoids situations that could be dangerous to him, other people and the church," Donnelly said.

He said there have been no allegations that Fertal has acted inappropriately in the seven years that he has lived at the retirement home.

"I think we did everything we possibly could; we took him out of circulation," Donnelly said.

Mike Radford, a history teacher at Aquinas High School who stepped into the hall Friday morning, said he believes students are safe. "It's not something I worry about," he said. "We keep an eye on them."

 
 

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