Priest's Reinstatement Splits Belmont Parish
By Elizabeth Fernandez
San Francisco Chronicle
April 14, 2003
To the outrage of many parishioners and clergy abuse survivors, the San Francisco Archdiocese has taken the highly unusual step of reinstating a Roman Catholic pastor to his Belmont flock despite a pending civil suit alleging child sexual abuse.
The Rev. Daniel Carter, suspended in August from his post at Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, exulted from the pulpit a week ago Sunday over his return from "a desert wherein there was great pain and much suffering."
Numerous parishioners greeted him with a standing ovation.
But on the sidewalk outside, toting placards and leaflets, an array of protesters voiced fury over the priest's reinstatement.
"People are confused and afraid that this will destroy the parish," says Carol Mateus, a parishioner for 10 years. "It's blatant hypocrisy. The archdiocese claims it cares about victims, yet they are putting an accused priest back in his parish."
Carter, 52, was placed on paid administrative leave at the height of a nationwide sexual abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike a handful of other priests suspended by the archdiocese, he did not quietly depart.
He presided over services at a supporter's home for invited guests. He sent preprinted, stamped postcards -- using the parish return address -- asking supporters to mail them to Archbishop Williams J. Levada, attesting to his innocence. He wrote open letters, likening himself in one to a leper doing battle with "the forces of evil."
His supporters say they have raised a legal war chest of more than $100,000.
In Carter's absence, many say his Peninsula parish of about 2,400 members was left shell-shocked and divided. Now, many worry that the church community will become more fractured.
"The parish is very split," says Evelyn Seely, a retired teacher and parishioner since 1968. "We're very upset about what's happening to it. We can't understand why Father Carter would be reinstated while a civil suit is pending when that's the reason he was removed in the first place."
Carter has denied allegations that he sexually abused a female student at Notre Dame des Victoires elementary school in San Francisco more than 20 years ago.
The civil suit was filed last summer, prior to the effective date of a new law lifting the statute of limitations for child abuse suits against institutions like the church. Because the suit would not have been covered by that law, the woman's attorneys withdrew it, then refiled the matter March 27 in San Francisco Superior Court.
Horst Jung, a friend of the priest, says the lawsuit "is nonsense . . . totally absurd. . . . He is incapable of doing what is said of him."
Jane Roe 3, as she is called in the lawsuit that formally identifies Carter only as John Doe 3, told The Chronicle that she had been fondled by Carter, a family friend, one evening in her home when she was about 8 and briefly alone with him.
The 34-year-old social worker says she was reluctant to take the matter to court and did so four months after filing an internal complaint only because she believed the archdiocese was slow to respond. Shortly after she filed suit, Carter was put on leave.
Out of more than 300 priests around the country suspended since the scandal erupted, fewer than 20 have been reinstated, says David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Even among the returnees, he says, Carter's reinstatement to active parish ministry is highly unusual.
"I can't think of any other case like this where a priest is facing civil litigation and is put back in before the litigation is resolved," Clohessy says.
Spokespersons for the archdiocese, which represents 425,000 Catholics in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties, were not available for comment. Carter did not return calls seeking comment.
But this weekend's Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocese's publication, says Carter was reinstated as of April 1: "Unless new facts come to light in the course of the civil suit, and/or any criminal investigation that may still be in process, then the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board finding that the allegations of child abuse were inconclusive shall remain in place."
The archdiocese said that for unrelated reasons, Carter would be reassigned June 30. Carter last weekend told his parish he wanted to remain. He also told the parish, quoting Levada, that the review board judged the allegations "to be unfounded." The archdiocese says the panel found them "inconclusive."
Ordained a priest in 1979, Carter served in San Francisco at All Hallows, Mission Dolores and St. James parishes. He was installed as pastor of Belmont's Immaculate Heart of Mary in September 2001.
Six months later, Jane Roe contacted the archdiocese and filed a police report alleging a fondling incident by Carter in the late 1970s. During that time frame, Carter served as a reader and deacon at Notre Dame des Victoires.
According to the police report, Jane Roe says she "went to say good night to him. . . . He was sitting at the dining room table. . . . (Carter) put his hand up my pajama top and felt my chest and then put his hand down my pajama bottom and felt my bottom and vagina region. (No penetration)."
The church forwarded the complaint, with records alleging sexual misconduct by other priests and church employees, to the San Francisco district attorney's office.
The D.A.'s office declined comment about Carter, but Joseph O'Sullivan, the priest's attorney, maintains the allegations are groundless and says Carter "would be acquitted almost instantly."
The archdiocese review board said the case was "inconclusive," but on June 7 it recommended that Carter be placed on administrative leave and undergo an assessment.
On Aug. 8, Roe filed suit. Hours later, Carter was put on administrative leave.
The Aug. 16 issue of Catholic San Francisco said the leave was "for the good of the church pending resolution of the allegation through internal reviews and the external investigation by the district attorney's office. . . . This action should not in any way imply a judgment as to the innocence or guilt of Father Carter in this matter."
'HE WAS LIKE GOD TO ME'
Jane Roe, who says she is no longer a practicing Catholic, says she did not report the alleged incident sooner because "I thought I wouldn't be believed. I felt ashamed and confused. He was a priest. He was like God to me. I really looked up to him. It profoundly affected my faith.
"This has been really hard on me," she says. "It is not easy to speak up about these incidents, and it is disheartening to hear all the misdirected support for these priests. But it is important to come forward, to report any information that people may have, because the only way to protect children is to let it be known when they are at risk of harm."
In the wake of Carter's suspension, a brigade of supporters mounted a vigorous defense, launching a petition drive, meeting with the archbishop, raising defense money. They also published a newsletter that decried a "witch-hunt mentality" and heaped scorn on Roe's claims.
"We had little old ladies licking and sealing envelopes," says parishioner Dennis Pettinelli, an estate and financial planner. "This guy is loved by many. He embodies what a priest should be."
To Pettinelli and other Carter advocates, the charismatic cleric has been unjustly treated.
"He is a man of integrity and faith," says Margaret Kauser, who became a Catholic and joined the Belmont parish 14 years ago. "Our community has suffered without him. It is a small and intimate community, and he is a vital part of it."
But others are furious about Carter's reinstatement and the behavior of his supporters.
"People were invited in small groups to have Mass in a private home on Sundays, and they were asked to give money," says Christine McGill Fabie, a licensed clinical social worker who was appointed by Carter to the parish council. "It sets up a subculture, those who gave money versus those who made a moral choice not to give money."
Helen Brouqua, also a parish council member, has removed her 8-year-old daughter from the youth choir.
"The parishioners are divided," she wrote Levada. "They need leadership and truth."
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