Diocese Acts against Priests || Two Are Placed on Leave Pending Reviews of Child-Pornography Accusations
By Jim Hinch
Orange County Register
July 29, 2003
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, seeking to quell mounting controversy over its handling of alleged priest sexual abuse, on Monday placed on administrative leave two priests suspected of downloading child pornography.
Father Cesar Salazar of St. Joseph Church in Santa Ana and Father Dominic Nguyen, who was recently performing a diocese desk job at an undisclosed location, were stripped of all priestly duties until the diocese decides their status.
Nguyen was disciplined in the Diocese of Boise and sent to Orange County last year after a repairman allegedly found child pornography on his computer at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. Nguyen had been sent to Idaho in 2000 after he had a sexual relationship with a woman while he was a parish priest at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove. He could not be reached for comment.
Salazar was accused in 2001 of downloading child pornography after a diocese employee allegedly found dozens of images of boys having sex with men on a computer formerly owned by the priest. Salazar was restricted from interacting with children at St. Joseph's elementary school but was allowed to continue celebrating Mass and living in the parish residence.
Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto said Salazar told him Monday that he "did not intentionally download child pornography." Nevertheless, responding to mounting criticism, Salazar asked Soto to place him on leave.
Soto said he decided to suspend Nguyen, whose identity had not previously been disclosed, after the Register asked about his case.
Soto said Bishop Tod D. Brown will also "review the current staffing of the (diocese's sex-abuse) review board," which has come under fire for what critics have termed inaction in several cases of alleged sexual misconduct.
Fernando Guido, the former diocese employee who accused Salazar, and a former member of the board who resigned last month in frustration both said Father Michael Mckiernan, a priest who represents the diocese on the board, fails to take accusations against priests seriously.
Soto said the diocese is also preparing to cooperate with what he termed an imminent FBI investigation of Salazar. FBI officials declined to say whether they are commencing such an investigation. Guido said he found signatures on Salazar's computer indicating that the priest signed on to pornographic Web sites.
Downloading child porn is a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Police in Twin Falls said they investigated Nguyen and referred his case to local prosecutors last year.
Twin Falls County prosecutors could not be reached for comment. Orange County diocese officials said no charges were filed against Nguyen because it was difficult to prove who downloaded specific images.
Nevertheless, Idaho Bishop Michael Driscoll stripped Nguyen of his priestly roles in that state because "some kind of misconduct popped up that looked like it could be criminal in nature and (the bishop) practiced zero tolerance," said Collette Cowman, spokeswoman for the Boise diocese.
After Nguyen returned to Orange County in January 2002, he was sent for seven months to the St. Luke Institute in Maryland, a Catholic treatment center for psychological problems. He was then assigned a desk job away from parishes and monitored to ensure he had no contact with children.
Soto said Brown has not disciplined Nguyen because he was never charged with a crime and is still under review by the sex-abuse board.
However, the board member who resigned last month said he discussed Nguyen's case with Brown in May and was told that the priest confessed to downloading porn.
Brown said Nguyen's "acts were deplorable," said the former board member, whose name is being withheld because he says he was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. "The bishop said it's a definite likelihood (that he would discipline Nguyen), but that's why he had a board -- to make the decision. ... I thought the minute someone downloads child porn, you're done. ... I said, 'As far as I'm concerned, it's a slam dunk.' "
Soto said he was unable to confirm that Nguyen admitted downloading the images.
Soto said the diocese, which has no written guidelines on viewing child pornography, will consider "developing a protocol on how to respond."
"It's important to act quickly ... to provide some peace of mind to the community and those that are under investigation," Soto said.
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For a list of Diocese of Orange employees disciplined in the past week for alleged inappropriate conduct, go to www.ocregister.com
CORRECTION: Colette Cowman is spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise, Idaho. Because of a reporting error, her first name was misspelled in the Local section of the July 29 edition of the Register.
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