Maui Deacon Charged with Rape

By Gary Kubota
Honolulu Star - Bulletin (Hawaii)
July 29, 2005

Maui's St. Ann Parish in rural Waihee has been rocked by a scandal as its deacon, James Ronald Gonsalves, stands accused of sex assault upon a juvenile beginning when the boy was 12. The parish is several miles north of Wailuku.

James Ronald Gonsalves: He is charged with 62 counts of sexual assault of a boy starting in 2002

The allegations stun St. Ann's parishioners, who pledge support

WAILUKU, Maui A Maui Catholic church deacon has been charged with 62 counts of sexual assault against a boy, an accusation that stunned the tiny rural parish where a bake sale is usually the big news of the month.

James Ronald Gonsalves, 68, deacon of St. Ann Church in Waihee, pleaded not guilty yesterday to the charges, which include 30 counts of first-degree sexual assault, 30 counts of third-degree sexual assault and two counts of first-degree attempted sexual assault.

Police said the crimes occurred between June 2002 and last month, starting when the boy was 12. They said some of the assaults occurred in the church.

While parishioners expressed shock at the allegations, many of them also said they supported Gonsalves.

"He's my friend. He's done so much for me. My feeling is that he has done so much for the church that I am willing to overlook the bad that he has done, if he has done anything bad," said Beatrice Dadez.

"We don't know he's guilty until he's proven guilty," she added.

Maui Circuit Judge Joel August ordered the indictment detailing the alleged crimes to be sealed pending a bail hearing this morning, when some facts in the case might be contested by Gonsalves' defense attorney, Philip Lowenthal.

Gonsalves, of Wailuku, was arrested at 4:40 p.m. Wednesday and is being held in lieu of $790,000 bail.

Lowenthal said in a written statement that Gonsalves "intends to present his case to the court and not the press."

Gonsalves, born on Maui and raised in his youth in Waihee, has been a deacon at St. Ann Church for about six years and served previously at St. Anthony's Church in Wailuku, said St. Ann parishioner Agnes Cockett. She said Gonsalves was retired from Hawaiian Airlines.

Gonsalves, who was ordained a deacon in 1987, was placed on administrative leave indefinitely on June 22 pending the outcome of the allegations, said Honolulu diocesan spokesman Patrick Downes.

Downes said that while Gonsalves is innocent until proved guilty, the church is responding quickly in light of previous sexual abuse scandals involving priests nationally and its interest in protecting children.

"We're just so much more sensitive to this," Downes said.

The sexual assault accusations are not the first to be leveled at a church official on Maui.

Catholic priest Joseph Bukoski was removed from his post at Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina in May 2002 after he was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor in Honolulu more than 20 years earlier. Bukoski has denied the allegations and is being sued by the alleged victim.

Gonsalves serves as administrator for St. Ann Church, which does not have its own priest. A deacon may serve as administrator and preside over weddings but not over Mass, Downes said.

Cockett said Gonsalves has played a pivotal role in raising St. Ann Church's membership from barely 100 six years ago to about 300 members today.

Gonsalves taught church members how to bake sweet bread to raise money and began a number of improvement projects, including the installation of a wheelchair ramp and an air-conditioning system in the church, Cockett said.

Several church members said Gonsalves also had been responsible for getting the church "out of the red" financially.

"We couldn't believe it," said Cecilia Kawakami, a church member since 1944, of the accusations. "We stand by him because of so much of what he has done for the church. We cannot let him go. We've got to be supportive."


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