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  Area Diocese Turns over Names of 20

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside, CA]
April 27, 2002

Child molestation complaints against 20 Catholic priests in the Diocese of San Bernardino have been turned over to police, following an internal review by diocese officials.

The accusations — some of which date back decades — target four active priests and 16 others who have either retired, died or left the diocese, said its spokesman, the Rev. Howard Lincoln.

"We did not handle them correctly," Lincoln said when asked why authorities were not contacted when the complaints first surfaced years ago.

The internal review was sparked by the spiraling sexual misconduct scandal that has swept the U. S. Roman Catholic Church since January. The crisis prompted an extraordinary two-day summit at the Vatican this week among all U. S. cardinals. The San Bernardino Diocese is not releasing the names of the 20 priests, nor the names of the churches where they had worked, Lincoln said.

San Bernardino Bishop Gerald R. Barnes is taking "immediate and decisive steps" against the four active priests, Lincoln said. He declined to give specifics.

The reports detail one accusation each against 18 priests, and two allegations each targeting the two remaining priests. The 22 alleged victims are described as boys and girls mostly between the ages of 13 and 18, with two who were under 13, Lincoln said.

• • •

Announcement planned The diocese's reports were turned over to San Bernardino police Thursday afternoon and investigators will start sifting through the files next week, Detective Gordon Jones said.

First, police will determine where each alleged molestation took place and then ship the complaint to the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over that area, Jones said.

Barnes released no statement Friday but plans to announce sweeping additions to the diocese's sexual misconduct policies next week, Lincoln said Friday.

None of the newly revealed allegations targeted the Rev. Paul Shanley, a longtime Massachusetts priest who was transferred to St.

Anne Catholic Church in San Bernardino in 1990, Lincoln said.

Shanley is a key figure in a lawsuit accusing Boston church leaders of ignoring decades of allegations of sexual misconduct against the troubled priest and reports he advocated sex between men and boys.

Shanley was dismissed from St. Anne in 1993 when the San Bernardino church leaders learned of his past.

"The review we did was very exhaustive and comprehensive," Lincoln said. "This is full disclosure for us. To the very best of our knowledge, this report represents all (diocese) priests with recorded allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor."

The review revealed 26 priests in Riverside and San Bernardino counties have been accused of molestation out of 400 who have worked here in the past 50 years. The oldest complaint dates to 1957 while the most recent was lodged in 1995, he said.

Of the 26 priests, two were exonerated after a police investigation. Accusations were dropped against the Rev. Paul Nguyen, who resigned and no longer lives in the country.

Three others have been convicted. The Rev. Edward Ball was sentenced to three years in state prison last year as part of a plea bargain. In 1998, the Rev. Edward Anthony Rodrigue was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for molesting a developmentally disabled 11-year-old Highland boy.

The Rev. Gustavo Benson was serving in Barstow when he pleaded no contest in 1987 to misdemeanor molestation charges. He was sentenced to probation and no longer lives in the United States.

Four priests named in the reports given to police Thursday are dead, Lincoln said. Three others have left the country and the rest are either retired or returned to their religious orders.

"We have never knowingly shuffled any priest to another parish, shuffled them outside the diocese or shuffled them to another country," Lincoln said.

• • •

Settlements The diocese has paid about $ 350,000 in settlements to victims of sex abuse, Lincoln said. The payments came from diocese insurance and not from donations from parishioners, he added.

Lincoln was unsure how many settlements were covered by the payments or when the cases were settled.

Sex crimes involving juveniles are not subject to the normal statute of limitations in California.

Regardless of how long ago such a felony crime occurred, a criminal complaint may be filed up to a year after the crime was first reported to police, according to San Bernardino County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kochis.

"The law requires two things," Kochis said. There must be "substantial sexual conduct" and there must be independent evidence that "clearly and convincingly" corroborates the victim's allegations, he said.

Yet it's difficult to prove old crimes in court with stale evidence.

"From a prosecutor's point of view, it can be described as an evidentiary nightmare," said San Bernardino County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Vic Stull. "Often you're dealing with a very young mind and a very young memory. Nobody's going to turn their back on a case. We'll take a crack at it. But ... it's an uphill battle."

Jim Falls, a Lake Arrowhead resident active in Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he has spoken with four Inland residents who say they were abused by diocese priests, mostly in the last decade.

"They're not ready to talk to the media or file police reports," he said. "It's hard persuading these people to go to the police.

There's a lot of shame. A lot of their families don't know."

Falls, 39, is a former altar boy who said was molested more than 20 years ago by a priest in the Los Angeles archdiocese.

"If you think the San Bernardino diocese really cleaned house, you're kidding yourself," he said. "It's not possible. If they truly cleaned house, they would make an effort to compensate victims," he said.

 
 

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