Former Priest Accused of Abusing Benicia Boy

By Kristi Belcamino
Contra Costa Times
April 24, 2002

A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses a former Benicia priest of molesting a 13-year-old boy in a city cemetery more than two decades ago and claims the Catholic Church attempted to cover up the alleged abuse.

When the allegations surfaced last fall, Father Jerome Henson was put on administrative leave from the Orange County church where he now works, said Larry Drivon, the Stockton attorney who filed the civil suit in Solano County Superior Court.

The suit was filed on behalf of the alleged victim, now 34 and serving a burglary sentence at a Vacaville prison. It seeks to remove Henson from any further contact with children and asks for monetary compensation for the victim.

The lawsuit claims that the Archdiocese of Sacramento attempted to hide the allegations by transferring the priest within five days after being informed of the allegation.

The suit is the latest in a string of accusations across the nation against Catholic priests and comes in the midst of highly publicized meetings between U.S. cardinals and Vatican leaders about the sexual abuse scandal.

Drivon said he plans to file several more lawsuits in Southern California in the next 10 days on behalf of victims who accuse priests of molestation and church officials of covering up the abuse.

Accusations in the lawsuits, particularly those accusing church officials of moving priests around to hide abuse allegations, will "deeply involve" Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Drivon said.

Before he left for Rome, Mahony, the only cardinal west of the Mississippi, said he would implement several measures to help prevent the sexual abuse of children within his archdiocese.

There was no known connection between Henson's transfers and Mahony, Drivon said.

Officials with the Archdiocese of Sacramento did not return calls.

The former Benicia priest adamantly denies that he engaged in any inappropriate conduct with the boy, said his attorney, Gary Moorhead, who had not seen the lawsuit Tuesday.

While he was in Benicia, Henson spent time cleaning up Catholic grave sites, and he recalls doing so with the boy on one occasion, Moorhead said.The Benicia case is unusual because a police report was filed after a police officer observed what he thought was a lewd act between Henson and the 13-year-old boy, Drivon said.

According to the police report made Aug. 5, 1981, a police sergeant patrolling the Benicia City Cemetery saw the boy and Henson in a compromising position near a fence.

The officer, a parishioner at St. Dominic's Church, recognized Henson as a priest in his church. He recognized the boy as a student he had coached on a soccer team and as a suspect in several home burglaries that had occurred in the city, according to the police report.

Five days later, the officer went to the 13-year-old's house, but the boy refused to talk to him.

The boy's mother said her son had been climbing a fence, lost his balance and fell. The priest caught him and broke his fall, she said.

According to the police report, police called St. Dominic's Church and said the police department could not follow up with criminal prosecution because the victim wasn't willing to testify.

A supervising priest told police he suspected Henson may have been too involved with different young boys and that he would attempt to have him "transferred out of the community as soon as possible and also have his assignments changed so that (Henson) will be working with adults and not with so many young boys," according to the police report.

Within five days, Henson was transferred to Reno. In 1983, he became a priest at St. John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa until he was put on leave in November.

Benicia police Lt. Mike Daley said police never followed through on investigating what the sergeant had seen because the family didn't want them to.

"The mother and father were adamant that nothing be done," he said. "Their version was that it was innocent contact. At that point even if we had wanted to do something, we couldn't."

Despite the claims in the lawsuit, the officer didn't observe any sexual act taking place, Daley said.

In January 2001, Don Hoard, a Petaluma resident and member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, received a letter from the alleged victim. At first, Hoard dismissed the allegation until the man told him about the police report.

In August, Hoard contacted Drivon. Drivon wrote a letter to the Orange Diocese in October, and Henson was put on leave.

Drivon said his client's criminal history may have been caused by early sexual abuse.

Kristi Belcamino covers police, crime and public safety. Reach her at 925-945-4782 or


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