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Two Abusive Priests Continued Work
1 Colorado pastor assigned to Mexico; 2nd had Okla. job

By Kirk Mitchell
Denver Post
April 29, 2002

Mexico City - Parishioners were still filing out of a crumbling Mexico City church last week when Roman Catholic priest Lucas A. Galvan scolded and shooed away a young girl who playfully jumped into his arms.

Galvan's boss at Nuestra Senora del Sagrada Corazon Iglesia says he wants to restrict his access to children. But it's not easy to do.

Twelve years ago, Galvan pleaded guilty in Colorado to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl and got two years' probation. The girl settled a lawsuit against the Pueblo Diocese for more than $ 90,000.

'I can never work in the U.S. again,' Galvan said. 'No bishop would take a chance. They get all these lawsuits.'

He said he wanted to keep his past a secret from the church's 2,500 parishioners or he would lose his effectiveness as assistant pastor and could be transferred to Colombia, Argentina or Italy.

Galvan is one of two Colorado priests who pleaded guilty to sex offenses against children and yet have gone on to work in jobs that can bring them into contact with young people.

Former Ignacio priest Bill Groves was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1990. Until two weeks ago, he served as a chaplain at a drug rehabilitation center in Oklahoma. He had been there nine years.

He says he told treatment residents about his felony conviction because it helped him relate to them.

'It's very useful to have a criminal record,' Groves said. 'I had been like the star employee for nine years.'

Formerly convinced that their arrests had destroyed their lives, both Galvan and Groves received treatment and redemption, and got new jobs. The Catholic Church rarely defrocks its priests and did not do so in their cases.

The men illustrate the challenges the church faces in trying to keep admitted abusers away from potential future victims. Both men said they rarely have contact with children, but at times their jobs forced them to.

Both men say they were not involved in other child sex-abuse incidents, and nothing else shows up in a check of Colorado court records.

Neither Galvan nor Groves would be covered by recommendations issued by U.S. cardinals following the unique meeting last week with Pope John Paul II and Vatican officials.

The cardinals recommended developing a special process to defrock any priest who has become'notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors.'

But in lesser cases, the local bishop would decide whether an accused priest is a risk to children and should be defrocked. The cardinals stopped short of a zero tolerance policy calling for immediately defrocking a priest.

Stephen Rossetti, consultant for the U.S. Catholic Congress of Bishops on sexual abuse, says it is as reckless for child molesters to work with children as it is for a recovering alcoholic to be a bartender.

'They should not be ministering to young people,' said Rossetti, president of St. Luke's Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which treats pastoral sex offenders. 'I would certainly not put them in a parish or with a youth group.'

Galvan's case and others suggest that Rossetti's warnings go unheeded.

On a recent Sunday, Galvan delivered Mass to about 300 parishioners at his church, a concrete and brick building with exposed wires and fallen plaster.

Galvan asked members to contribute to a building fund and invited children to attend an all-kids' service later that day. He excused himself from attending it, saying he was busy with other matters.

Behind Galvan's desk are shelves decorated with tiny 'Star Wars' figurines and Hot Wheels cars.

'I'm just a kid in heart,' said Galvan, who has a collection of 20,000 comic books including Spider Man.

His boss, Pastor Jesus Orozco, said Galvan is childlike, but harmless.

'He is naive,' he said. 'There is nothing evil in that.' Officials from the Mexico City Archdiocese declined to comment on Galvan.

The seventh of 15 children, Galvan, whose father worked in a garbage dump, said he wasn't given much chance of becoming anything but a laborer.

After graduating from high school in Grand Junction, he served three years in the Army. While stationed in Germany, he traveled to the Vatican and decided to become a priest.

Galvan enrolled in a seminary in Indiana in 1970, where it took him 10 years to earn a bachelor's degree in social sciences and a master's degree in theology.

In 1980, he joined the Theatines and moved to San Luis in southern Colorado. Most of the members were poor farm laborers, who spoke Spanish as their first language. He served several small churches in several towns in the San Luis Valley.

In 1989, Galvan, an assistant priest at Sangre de Cristo Church in San Luis, offered a job to an 11-year girl whose father had died a year earlier. 'I felt sorry for her but I think it came out the wrong way,' Galvan said.

Galvan, then 40, had the girl clean the rectory and his private room and on several occasions fondled the girl in his room, said the girl's attorney, Alan Higbee. Galvan later admitted to only one incident, Higbee said.

The girl reported what happened and Galvan was arrested. He pleaded guilty in March 1989 to third-degree sexual assault and was given a suspended one-year jail sentence in a deferred judgment in which the charge was later dismissed.

'She was a devout Catholic,' Higbee said. 'It was devastating to her.'

Galvan said he felt like the worst person in the world. 'I thought I wasn't worthy to be a priest any more.'

But fellow priests persuaded him to stay with his calling.

Galvan went to the Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic treatment enclave 75 miles north of Albuquerque. Galvan said his psychiatrist told him what happened with the girl 'was a mistake. 'You didn't know what happened.''

Galvan took a one-year leave of absence from active ministry and worked as a janitor at the Denver Police Department, living at St. Andrews Seminary in Denver, which is run by the Theatines.

The rector of the seminary was Father Bart Nadal, who had been acquitted a year earlier of charges he molested two sisters, ages 7 and 8, while he was the pastor of the Holy Family Church in Fort Collins. Nadal said he doesn't recall speaking with Galvan about what he should do in the future.

Galvan couldn't remember the names of priests who persuaded him to remain in the priesthood, but there were several from the Theatines, he said.

He lamented that other priests who molested children had their careers ruined. 'One little error,' he said. 'They might have been an excellent, excellent priest otherwise.'

Galvan said he is glad he was caught after the first incident.

'It's like alcoholism. Once a person falls it's worst the next time,' he said. 'What happened gave me an opportunity to change my life.'

In 1992, Galvan became a priest at San Cayetano Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and stayed for five years.

The Theatines wanted him to be closer to home, he said, adding that there were no incidents in Argentina that prompted his move to Mexico City.

He said he's not bothered that at age 53 he is still an assistant pastor and must answer to Orozco. While Orozco performs administrative duties, he is free to minister directly to the people in their homes, he said.

'The pastor is tied down with financial things,' Galvan said. 'I'm more free to visit the sick.'

He rarely works with children, he said. But he won't turn families away when they ask him to counsel a 'naughty' child or pray for a sick child, he said.

Orozco described a much tighter rein on Galvan than Galvan had suggested and calls him hard-working and dedicated.

'Under my supervision he is limited in what he can do,' Orozco said. 'My office is here (next door) and he is only allowed to see two or more people at a time.'

Although Orozco said he was aware of what Galvan was accused of, he said it was exaggerated. Galvan hugged the girl and mistakenly touched her breasts, he said.

'His problem is not pedophilia. He is not a criminal,' Orozco said. 'This is an exaggeration. Here people are physical all the time. Why should someone be punished for a hug?'

He said the scandal of priests in the U.S. is likely motivated by competing churches and driven in large part by money.

'Now everybody wants to accuse a priest for something that happened 20 years ago,' he said.

Galvan's parishioners disagreed over whether Galvan should be given a second chance.

'If it's true, then people won't trust him at all any more,' said Lourdes Garcia, 41, who has two daughters, ages 7 and 11. Garcia sells tamales on a street corner two blocks from the church.

'If he did it there, they have no reason bringing him here,' she said.

Imelda Ramirez, who has four children including a 10-year-old daughter, said Galvan deserves another chance, but should not be left alone with children.

'You never know where the new priests come from. They just appear,' she said. But 'even the worst of the worst deserves a second chance.'

Galvan agreed. 'The past is the past and you have to let it bury itself,' he said. 'I've paid for it and it is already done.'

Back in the United States, Groves said he used his past to reach out to people at a Cushing, Okla., rehabilitation center.

He said when he molested a 14-year-old boy in 1989 it was just one manifestation of a drug and alcohol addiction that was killing him.

He attempted suicide five times, he said. Once a parishioner found him hanging by a rope from St. Ignatius Catholic Church's bell tower and had to cut him down, he said.

He was using marijuana and drinking large quantities of wine at the time, he said.

'Twenty-one years of addiction to alcohol caused my reasoning to be phenomenally impaired and that led to this event in Colorado,' he said.

Groves was known for befriending troubled Hispanic and Indian teens. Allegations of inappropriate behavior surfaced after a youth in custody of the La Plata County Sheriff's office said Groves gave juveniles wine and marijuana.

In September 1989, Groves was charged with three felony and two misdemeanor charges in the sexual assault of a teenager and allegedly contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The boy was lonely and repeatedly came over to the rectory for companionship, Groves said.

Groves pleaded guilty to one felony count of child sex abuse and was placed on probation. He received substance and sex abuse counseling at the Servants of the Paraclete and a center in Atlanta, he said.

He, too, sees his criminal case as a mixed blessing.

'I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that had I not been arrested I would be dead today of progressive alcoholism,' he said.

Groves said he never plans on ministering as a priest again. He said he applied for a job at Valley Hope Center, a rehabilitation center, in 1992 because it only served adults, and he described his criminal case in great detail when hired.

Valley Hope vice president John Leibold said Groves did not tell anyone about his sexual assault conviction when he was hired. Groves was suspended and then fired two weeks ago after Valley Hope administrators learned of his past through a Denver Post article.

'I feel real stupid that the conviction got by us at the time of hire,' Leibold said. 'We don't hire convicted sex offenders.'

 
 

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