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Priests Colluded in Sex Abuse, Suit Claims
Close-knit fraternity of clergymen protected molesters, says lawsuit against L.A. archdiocese

By Jean Guccione and William Lobdell
Los Angeles Times
December 18, 2003

High-ranking priests allegedly used positions of power within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to gain access to the children they are accused of abusing and to cover up for other clerics, according to a lawsuit [Case No. BC307934] filed Wednesday by 17 alleged victims of childhood sexual abuse.

The lawsuit alleges that a "systemic failure" of the archdiocese to protect children occurred because of self-serving actions by a close-knit fraternity of guilty priests.

"The presence of such a high number of high-ranking child molester priests in the [Los Angeles] archdiocese underscores the institutional and cultural acceptance and acquiescence in child molestation by priests," according to the 46-page complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the Los Angeles archdiocese and others.

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg called the allegations "over the top and without merit."

"Abuse of minors is often a crime that happens in darkness," said Tamberg, who said the archdiocese has acted aggressively since the 1980s to battle sexual abuse by priests.

He said the notion that there was an organized band of sexually abusive priests was preposterous.

The suit also alleges that abusive priests were promoted into positions of prominence between 1966 and 2002, including key posts such as auxiliary bishops, vicar generals, recruiters of priests, school board members and judges in the archdiocesan court that passes judgment on priestly misconduct.

"The elevation of child molesters to these positions helps explain why so many child molesting priests were protected by the [Los Angeles] archdiocese, how so many child molesters became priests and how so many seminarians and priests became child molesters," according to the suit filed by attorneys Raymond P. Boucher of Beverly Hills and Laurence E. Drivon of Stockton.

Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk who now works for victims of sexual abuse, said the institutional pattern alleged in the suit reflects the way the church has responded to molestation of minor parishioners.

"If you take the model [of sexual abuse and coverup] from Boston and superimpose it on Los Angeles, it will match," he said. "It will be the same thing -- it's the Roman model."

The lawsuit identifies 28 priests as part of the alleged subculture, including former Auxiliary Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, who resigned as bishop of Santa Rosa in 2000 after he was accused of sexual misconduct; the late Msgr. Joseph Sharpe, who served in Oxnard; and late school administrator Leland Boyer.

The group had enough influence that "fellow priests did nothing to prevent the continuation of abuse because they themselves were molesting or they feared reprisal from the high-ranking priests who were child molesters," according to the suit.

Priests accused of molestation were given refuge at parishes run by sexually abusive pastors, the suit alleges. The court papers also detail allegations of how priests under suspicion of abuse were promoted to high posts within the archdiocese.

One admitted molester, Michael Baker, was assigned in 1993 to the Office of Vicar of Clergy, a key department in the church hierarchy.

Tamberg said Baker's job consisted mostly of signing checks and other routine bookkeeping matters, but attorneys "twist it in a way that removes any clue" as to what the position really was.

The lawsuit is one of hundreds being filed across California as the Dec. 31 deadline approaches for filing civil claims against the archdiocese and other employers.

State lawmakers opened a one-year window of opportunity for alleged victims of sexual misconduct as children to sue regardless of when the alleged crimes took place.

The lawsuit alleges that Boyer was pastor at Divine Savior Parish in Los Angeles when he hired then-14-year-old Jaime Romo to answer phones and do chores around the rectory.

Thirty years later, Romo, now a professor of education at the University of San Diego, said in an interview that he was molested by Boyer. He said he recalled other boys whom Boyer treated "like special adoptees."

After graduating from Stanford University, Romo said that he contacted Boyer for advice on becoming a priest. Boyer, he said, used to boast of the number of boys he recruited for the seminary.

Romo said he attended a seminary for three years before becoming disenchanted with the "acting out behavior" that he witnessed there.

About that time, Boyer was moving up the administrative ladder, according to the lawsuit.

He served as director of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine programs that provide religious education to public school students and was in the College of Consultors, which assists the archbishop on serious matters, including sexual abuse, the suit alleges. Boyer, a monsignor, was pastor at St. Bede the Venerable Church in La Canada Flintridge when he died last year.

 
 

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