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  Man Feels Allegations against Priest Are More Believable Now

By Cary Clack
San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
June 17, 2002

On the night of June 22, 1998, a 33-year-old man sat in a back pew in a West Side church and listened to parishioners call him a liar.

They didn't know his name, his face or that he was in their presence. All they knew was that because of a stranger's words their beloved priest had been removed from his duties over allegations of sexual assault.

As the disbelieving members of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church peppered Monsignor Lawrence Stuebben with angry questions, the young man got up, walked down the center aisle, and turned to face about 150 people who had no reason to believe him.

"I was just going to sit there and listen," said the man, now 37, who doesn't want his name used. "But the rage kept building up in me. These people weren't buying it."

He told the parishioners that he'd been abused by Father Jose Luis Sandoval 22 years earlier, when he was an altar boy and Sandoval was an associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.

Speaking in a breaking voice, he was repeatedly interrupted by hostile questions and finger pointing. But by the time he'd retreated in tears to the sacristy, where he was comforted by Stuebben, he had won over some of the parishioners.

For more than two decades, he didn't speak of any abuse. He said he would tamper down the anger when it would rise. But two weeks before he stood up in front of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, he and a friend who said he had been abused by Sandoval went to the archdiocese and met with Archbishop Patrick Flores.

"We told them our story; they believed us," he said.

The case was turned over to the archdiocese's crisis-intervention committee. The group issued a report indicating the allegations - which Sandoval denied - were believable.

It was discovered that a complaint had been received about Sandoval in 1985 but not acted upon until 1993, when he was eventually reassigned to another parish.

The priest was relieved of his duties, but before a meeting with the archbishop, he left the parish, presumably to Mexico. Sandoval was never charged.

The man who brought the allegations against Sandoval in 1998 understood the passionate defense of the priest's flock.

"This was a man who prayed for them and took care of them, and there was no way they could look at him like that (as a pedophile)," he said.

Had he come forward today, where allegations of priests preying on children is now a staple of the news, he believes their reaction would have been different.

"They would be more understanding," he said. "Now that it's nationwide and worldwide, the very same people then would be on my side."

It has been more than 25 years since the time he alleges the abuse occurred, and he says he's come to peace. But the only family members he has told are an aunt and his wife. He has never talked with his teen-age son about it.

He doesn't go to church as regularly as he used to, but he doesn't blame the Catholic Church for what happened to him.

"Religions have good causes," he said. "It's the people who make it bad."

Though he didn't follow closely the bishop's conference in Dallas, he believes in a zero-tolerance policy for priests who abuse children.

"They shouldn't be priests anymore," he said. "If you don't stop it, it becomes a habit."

 
 

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