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  Records Show 4 Priests Accused

By Alex Friedrich
Monterey County Herald
May 5, 2002

A review of court records from the past 25 years turns up civil cases in which four priests assigned to the Diocese of Monterey were accused of sexual misconduct, two involving minors. None of the cases resulted in any criminal charges.

* Salinas. In December 1999, the family of an 11-year-old girl who had attended Sacred Heart School sued the diocese in connection with allegations they had made against the Rev. Paul Valdez.

Monterey County court records reflect the existence of that lawsuit but contain no case file detailing the allegations or the result. Court employees said the file cannot be located. The family's attorney, Thomas Wills, said it might have been sealed after the settlement.

According to Valdez's attorney, Tom Worthington, the priest was accused of "inappropriate touching."

After an investigation by Salinas police, the Monterey County District Attorney's Office was asked to consider a possible misdemeanor charge of "annoying or molesting children," Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz said last week.

Even though that charge would have alleged only "fairly minor conduct," Spitz said prosecutors would have needed to prove that the touching was motivated by "an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in the alleged child victim."

After a six-month inquiry, Spitz said, his office declined to prosecute because it could not "prove what the intent was."

When asked whether the diocese had paid any money to the family to settle the lawsuit, family attorney Wills would say only that "it was concluded."

Asked whether the court dismissed the case, Wills replied: "I don't file frivolous lawsuits."

Valdez is now pastor of St. Michael's Church in Boulder Creek. He declined to comment last week, referring questions to his lawyer, Worthington.

* Capitola. In 2000, Anthony Thomas Falco pleaded no contest to charges of molesting two teenage boys while he was posing as an itinerant Franciscan monk and volunteering as a youth worker at St. Joseph's Church in Capitola. He admitted to molesting one of the young parishioners while they were on a religious pilgrimage to Bosnia.

After the family of one of the boys complained to law enforcement, he was prosecuted by the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office and is now serving a six-year prison sentence.

While Falco was never a church employee and the Bosnia trip was not officially sponsored by the church, St. Joseph's officials helped arrange fund-raising events to help pay for the journey.

Bishop Sylvester Ryan, who oversees the four-county Diocese of Monterey, emphasized that Falco was not a priest and had no official role with the church.

In lawsuits against St. Joseph's, the diocese and the church-run travel agency that arranged the Bosnia trip, the boy's family challenged the church's failure to stop the trip.

In a deposition as part of the lawsuit, the pastor of St. Joseph's, the Rev. Patrick Dooling, testified that he had doubted Falco's status as a monk and said that he had known before the trip that Capitola police had arrested Falco in early 1999 for possession of pornography depicting sexual acts involving underage males.

Even so, Dooling acknowledged that he had failed to alert the boy's family before the trip.

Each of the lawsuits was settled for undisclosed amounts, according to lawyers for the family, who at one point said in court documents that the church's liability could exceed $2 million.

Terming it a confidential personnel matter, the diocese has declined to comment on what, if any, corrective action was taken with Dooling, who did not respond to a request to comment last week. Diocesan officials stressed, however, that Dooling "was never charged with any allegations of misconduct."

He remains assigned to St. Joseph's.

"Obviously, mistakes were made in identifying (Falco)," Ryan told The Herald last month. "Father Dooling wished he'd made other decisions. We hope he and other people have learned an important lesson."

* Watsonville. In 1994, Dona French, an administrative assistant at Our Lady Help of Christians Church -- also known as Valley Church -- filed suit against the diocese. In essence, it was a wrongful termination lawsuit that contained allegations of sexual misconduct.

French says the suit was settled out of court for a sum she cannot disclose because of a confidentiality agreement.

French alleged in the Santa Cruz County lawsuit that the Rev. Bernardo Soares became verbally abusive toward her in the autumn of 1989 after she had heard him having sex with another priest in Soares' bedroom. The tension came to a head on Jan. 30, 1992, she said, when Soares assaulted her by pushing her against a counter in the rectory kitchen.

In the lawsuit, she said she suspected that Soares had been sexually abusing a young altar boy who had been spending time in Soares' church apartment.

In her complaint, she said she and the Rev. Laurence O'Sullivan, since deceased, reported their concerns to Bishop Ryan in August 1992. Ryan promised to look into the allegations but failed to investigate fully, French contended in the lawsuit.

Ryan has declined to discuss her allegations.

According to her lawsuit, French reported her suspicions about Soares and the altar boy to the Santa Cruz District Attorney's Office. An official there verified that she had met with investigators but that there was not enough evidence to press charges.

French alleged in her lawsuit that Ryan retaliated against her and O'Sullivan for complaining.

O'Sullivan went to Arizona for treatment of an illness, she said, and she followed the priest to care for him. She said that when he recovered and asked for reinstatement at Valley Church, Ryan refused. The diocese terminated her employment contract in February 1993, she said.

Soares is retired and living in San Juan Bautista. He did not return phone calls requesting comment.

French now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. O'Sullivan died in 1997.

French said the situation had left her frustrated.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to know this kid had a problem," she said, referring to the altar boy. She said he "was having difficulty in school, difficulty with neighbors. He'd (done) some property damage. It was all pointing to a disturbed child."

French declined to provide The Herald with the altar boy's name.

* Capitola. In a 1985 lawsuit, a parishioner at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Capitola accused two diocesan priests of exploiting his alcoholism and leading him to perform homosexual acts.

Gary Crabtree, then 34, said he was working in the sacristy of St. Joseph's when he went to two priests for help with his addiction. He alleged in court documents that the priests -- St. Joseph's pastor Joseph Watt and the Rev. Michael Marini of Resurrection Church in Aptos -- plied him with drugs and marijuana and took advantage of him.

"It happened once, and my impression was that it was consensual," Marini said Saturday. "How do I rape a 30-year-old man?"

In his lawsuit, Crabtree contended that on numerous occasions beginning in March 1983 the priests encouraged and caused his "participation in unlawful, improper and immoral sexual activities."

Crabtree's suit contends that the priests "wrongfully encouraged and counseled their parishioners in homosexual practices."

Marini responded: "That is so blown out of proportion. There's ... a lot of legal language that is hyperbole."

He said he worked with Crabtree for two years to help him kick his habit and straighten out his life and finances.

Crabtree alleged that leaders of the diocese knew of the priests' activities, but failed to fire them. He said he never notified police.

Crabtree's lawyer, William Johnson of Oakland, said the diocese agreed to a financial settlement. He said a confidentiality agreement prevents him from disclosing the amount.

Marini said he "was not coddled" by the diocese but removed from his position and sent to counseling, which he said he still receives. After a year working in a different ministry away from the church, he said, he was reinstated.

Assigned to a Santa Cruz parish, he went on to be a highly popular priest. He retired from the priesthood a year ago at age 70.

"It was the wrong thing to do, and I know that," he said Saturday. "I have a commitment to celibacy, and by no means do I excuse myself for doing it. (However) I won't say what I did was unconscionable, because it wasn't. It was a gay issue, and it was 15 years ago."

Watt, also retired, recently moved from Monterey to Santa Cruz County.

Bishop Ryan said Marini and Watt "wouldn't have continued in the ministry (unless there was) some confidence that their conduct would be above board. They made mistakes with this, and they carried on. (And) they did beautifully."

Crabtree has since moved away from the Central Coast. Citing the confidentiality agreement, he refused to discuss details of the case last week but said his involvement with the priests "damaged me."

"It took me a few years . . . before I could get back to the church," he said.

 
 

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