2 Area Priests Moved to Mexico: Cases: One Was Convicted of molestation
The Other Was Never Charged with a Crime

By Scott Farwell
Press Enterprise [Riverside CA]
May 10, 2002

A former Inland Catholic priest who was convicted of sexual molestation in 1987 transferred to a church in Ensenada, Mexico, where he continues to work today.

Gustavo Benson, 56, who pleaded no contest to molesting a boy in Barstow, was assigned to San Judas Tadeo Church after Bishop Phillip Straling, who was formerly at the Diocese of San Bernardino, informed Tijuana Bishop Emilio Berlie about Benson's past.

Six years later, Straling opposed, and eventually scuttled, the assignment of the Rev. Rudi Gil, who had been accused of having sex with a teen-age boy, to the same seaside parish, which is part of the 2.6 million Tijuana Diocese. Gil, who was never charged with a crime, acknowledged the incident in an interview.

The manner in which church officials deal with priests who have been accused of sexual molestation has been at the crux of a national scandal involving the Roman Catholic Church. Some victims have accused the church of transferring priests who were known pedophiles from parish to parish instead of turning them over to authorities.

Differing reactions

The reason for the different responses in the cases of Benson and Gil, according to the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, is that Benson complied with counseling after his conviction and Gil refused treatment.

In Benson's case, Straling wrote Berlie that Benson should never have access to adolescents.

"If this happens," Straling wrote in a letter dated June 18, 1987, "Gustavo should never function in active ministry again."

Lincoln said Straling officially approved Benson's transfer in 1991, but only after Mexican church officials were fully informed of his past.

Gil resigned as pastor of St. Francis of Rome Catholic Church in Lake Elsinore in 1993 amid allegations that he had sex with a teen-ager while serving at another church six years earlier.

Gil said he worked with Benson for six months before Straling pressured Mexican church officials to remove him.

"We consider the allegations that have been made against Father Gil of inappropriate behavior to be of grave nature," Straling wrote to Berlie in a letter dated May 2, 1994. "We would not recommend him for faculties with any other diocese either in this country nor anywhere else in the world.

"Our diocese believes we have a serious obligation to the Father, to the public reputation of the church and to uninformed individual whom he may attempt to serve."

In the letter, Straling said he does not have the authority to force Berlie to remove the priest, but, "I must advise you in the strongest terms that I will not and cannot accept any kind of responsibility for actions which you may take in allowing Father Gil to perform his priestly duties in Mexico."

Treatment program

Gil said he left a church-assigned center for the treatment of priests dealing with sexual identity issues because his therapist was ineffective. He said he found a job in Mexico with the help of San Diego Bishop Gilbert Chavez.

"He knew I'd be of more use in the ministry than in some treatment program," Gil said.

Today, Gil runs businesses in Lake Elsinore and Riverside that help Hispanics with immigration issues and with transferring money to Mexico.

Straling, who is bishop of a diocese in Nevada, said Thursday that he decided not to report the cases to Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles or to officials in the Vatican because "it was the responsibility of the Tijuana bishop to make that decision."

Calls to the Tijuana Diocese for comment were not returned Thursday.

Benson admitted the criminal charges during a telephone interview from Ensenada on Thursday. He said he ministers to children at his church but has not done anything inappropriate during his 15 years at the seaside parish.

"I was convicted, yes, it was a misdemeanor," Benson said.

When asked whether he could be trusted around children, he said of the media: "You definitely will never know because you won't handle it the way you should."


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