Priest Who Served in Pismo Charged with Sex Abuse
Former Altar Boy Alleges He Was Victim of Molestation

By Patrick S. Pemberton
San Luis Obispo Tribune
February 7, 2003

A Catholic priest has been charged with two counts of child molestation that allegedly occurred 30 years ago when he was assigned to Pismo Beach. If convicted, he would face prison time.

Gregory Kareta, 79, most recently of Avenal, appeared in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Thursday for an initial hearing. An arraignment was continued until March 3.

According to court records, Kareta repeatedly molested an 11-year-old altar boy during the summers of 1973 and 1974 when Kareta was the pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church.

The victim, from Southern California, allegedly reported the abuse to the bishop at the Montgomery Church in Torrance in 1985 but said he was encouraged not to report Kareta to authorities. Instead, the victim and Kareta were offered counseling by Catholic church authorities.

Nationwide, more than 1,200 priests are facing charges of sexual misconduct with minors, according to a recent New York Times survey done in the wake of the scandal affecting the Catholic Church. The Kareta case marks the first in this county in which a priest has been accused of molestation.

Adrian Andrade, an attorney hired by the church to represent Kareta, said he could not comment.

Although Kareta has lived in several states and throughout California, no other jurisdiction has charged him with child molestation, Deputy District Attorney Larry Greene said. But victims could potentially surface as news of the arrest spreads, Greene said.

In the local case, a relative of the victim reported the abuse to the diocese last spring. That information was then forwarded to authorities in Los Angeles.

Christopher Deitz, the minister provincial of the Province of St. Joseph of Cupertino, said Thursday that the allegations were "abhorrent."

"We the friars are deeply saddened to learn of the charges that have been filed against our brother, Father Kareta," said Deitz, who is his major superior. "We consider the crime a grave sin."

The case is believed to be the oldest ever filed in the county. Under a 1994 law, prosecutors can file criminal charges beyond the normal six-year statute of limitations in molestation cases as long as the conduct is substantial and there is corroborating evidence.

In the Kareta case, three other victims -- relatives of the 11-year-old -- were also allegedly molested by the priest, court records indicate. Charges have not been filed on those allegations.

Kareta first became a priest in 1949.

According to police reports, the victim and his family first knew Kareta in the 1960s, when he was an associate pastor in Hermosa Beach. He was the pastor at Pismo Beach between 1971 and 1978.

According to police reports, the boy was first sent to stay with him during the summer of 1973. Kareta allegedly molested the boy numerous times. The following year, when the youth was again sent to Kareta, the abuse allegedly occurred daily.

The victim didn't tell anyone about the abuse until 1983 when he heard that Kareta would be attending his mother's funeral.

After it was reported to the church, Kareta allegedly admitted the crimes to church officials, but authorities were not contacted.

Last spring, when Deitz asked him about the allegations, according to court records, Kareta said he didn't remember the boy staying with him.

After Kareta's hearing Thursday, Deitz read from a prepared statement, telling members of the media that the church is cooperating with authorities. The church, he said, is also asking for forgiveness from people sexually assaulted by members of the clergy.

Kareta, who has no prior criminal history, is free after posting $50,000 bond.

If convicted, he would be sentenced under the law from the 1970s, which called for a term ranging from one year to life.

Mary Grant, a founder of the Southern California chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said there are at least 500 cases of sexual abuse ready to be filed against priests in California, though she thinks there are even more victims.

"Most victims never are able to come forward simply because of the feelings of guilt," said Grant, who herself was victimized by a priest in Orange County.

Many victims have come forward, she said, but their allegations were ignored or covered up.

Victims of these crimes have experienced depression, inability to sleep, problems with drug and alcohol abuse and trust issues, she said.

Victims feel especially bad, she said, because the priest is seen as someone in a position of power.

"The stigma was so great because, if something was wrong, it was not the fault of the priest," she said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.