Runaway Priests
Hiding in Plain Sight
Safe Harbor
Church Aid, Legal Lapses Leave Cleric Free to Roam, Recently to a Parish on the Italian Riviera

"That's when your hair stands on end and your blood boils."

By Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin
Dallas Morning News
June 23, 2004

[See also Egerton on the human toll of Dominic's alleged abuse, a timeline and map of Dominic's travels, and the Salesian order's responses to the Runaway Priests series. See a list of articles in the series.]

Albissola Marina, Italy – Inside a 16th-century Catholic church by the Mediterranean Sea, the priest dresses as a man of God and preaches about the Holy Spirit.

Outside, he tells lies.

"I'm not a functioning priest," he says, until he realizes a reporter has just seen him celebrate Sunday evening Mass. Then he says he only "occasionally" leads a service and isn't in active ministry. "Ministry means one has to be in a parish," he says.

The Rev. Yusaf Dominic, who has many aliases, offers communion in a church by the Mediterranean Sea. He denied British child molestation charges seven years ago and fled before the trial.

In fact, the Pakistani has been serving here since last fall as associate pastor of Nostra Signora della Concordia. He has also been leading a smaller congregation in the nearby village of Ellera.

Italy, it turns out, is at least the third country in which he has worked in parishes since denying child molestation charges in England seven years ago and fleeing, before he could be tried. The Dallas Morning News tracked him down after Scotland Yard failed.

Church aid and law enforcement lapses have made the sojourn possible, as they have in many other cases that The News reviewed in its yearlong investigation of accused priests' international movements.

British church leaders bailed the priest out of jail, and bishops in Pakistan knew he was a fugitive and let him work anyway. And he has recently served in the United States, apparently without undergoing a background check.

Such is the tangle of this priest's life that even his name and age are unclear. He is the 54-year-old Rev. Yusaf Dominic in the Archdiocese of Lahore, Pakistan, where he was ordained and technically remains based. But here in the Italian Diocese of Savona-Noli – whose leader said he knew nothing of the abuse case – he is known as the 48-year-old Rev. Dominic Yousuf.

On Concordia's steps, Father Dominic offered no explanation for the confusion. "I don't have anything in my mind" about it, he said during a rambling interview in which he frequently contradicted himself.

In the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., where Father Dominic worked at St. Francis of Assisi Church in 2002, queries about the priest's name brought a chuckle from the associate pastor.

"That was a question that was always under debate," said the Rev. Eugene Field.

One of Father Dominic's accusers in London expressed outrage at the priest's continuing parish assignments, which keep him in the presence of children.

"That's when your hair stands on end and your blood boils," said the young man, who spoke on the condition he not be identified. "This guy's got to be stopped."

Fitness always in doubt

Father Dominic's globetrotting began in the 1970s, long before he was arrested in London – but well after he was first identified as a poor prospect for ministry.

"He was not a very good student," said Lahore Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, who taught him at a junior seminary and has been a diocesan boss since 2001. "He's not coordinated in his thinking, not logical. His mind is not very clear."

Asked how such a young man could be deemed fit for the priesthood, the archbishop replied: "That's a good question. It was not in my hands."

A few years after he was ordained in 1974, Father Dominic began visiting London periodically and working temporarily in parishes of its Westminster Archdiocese. He studied in Rome in the mid-1980s, sometimes spending summers as a substitute priest in the New York City area.

Father Dominic was arrested in late 1996 while at St. Bernard Parish in London, accused of molesting two boys in the 1980s. After leaving jail, he was sent to a clergy treatment center in rural England run by the Servants of the Paraclete religious order, which became notorious in the United States for its past practice of helping return abusers to parish work.

In early 1997, Father Dominic disappeared and flew home to Pakistan. He told The News that he fled after treatment center officials forced him to sign an admission of abuse.

Father Dominic said that he did not abuse the boys and that they made allegations in retaliation for his efforts to collect a debt from an accuser's father. "That's B.S.," said the one accuser The News reached, who is unrelated to the other alleged victim.

A current treatment center leader, the Rev. Liam Hoare, declined to comment and would not provide contact information for the predecessor who oversaw Father Dominic's treatment. The News could not locate that priest, whom Father Hoare said had been transferred to the Philippines.

Father Dominic said British authorities returned his passport when he left jail; authorities would not confirm that.

Westminster Archdiocese records show no information about how Father Dominic got out of England, spokesman Timothy Livesey said. But he acknowledged that church representatives erred in arranging Father Dominic's bail.

The Rev. Tony Brunning agreed to be liable for the bail, which was a "mistake," said Mr. Livesey. Father Brunning, a longtime friend of the suspect, declined to comment.

After Father Dominic absconded, Mr. Livesey said, "the diocese wrongly paid" the approximately $3,600 that Father Brunning owed. He identified the person who authorized this indemnification as the Rev. Ralph Brown, who was the diocese's vicar general at the time. Monsignor Brown did not respond to an interview request.

It is a crime in Britain even to agree to indemnify someone who is liable for a bail payment, and Mr. Livesey acknowledged that the archdiocese came under criminal investigation because of Monsignor Brown's action. The archdiocese was not prosecuted.

Monsignor Brown "did not realize there was anything wrong" in what he was doing and has apologized, Mr. Livesey said

The original investigator on the case, Detective Constable Keith Olivant, said that what happened was "an absolute offense where ignorance is no excuse." He said he did not know why the archdiocese was not prosecuted.

"It's something they ought to be prosecuted for," the detective said.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service declined to comment on anything related to the case because it remains open.

Legal standstill

Britain and Pakistan have no extradition treaty, and London police apparently quit working the case.

The accuser interviewed by The News said he has never heard from the current investigator on the case, Detective Sgt. Caer Taylor. The detective told The News she didn't know whether the case was still pending and, when told that a reporter had located the priest, she didn't ask for his address.

Instead of staying beyond the reach of the law, Father Dominic moved to countries where extradition would have been routine – first the United States and later Italy.

He left Pakistan after Lahore Archdiocese leaders barred him from ministry, Archbishop Saldanha said. By 1999, he was living in the New York City area and trying to get American dioceses to hire him. Los Angeles and Brooklyn were among those that refused, citing vaguely negative reports from Lahore.

The Rev. John J. Brown, Brooklyn's clergy personnel director, said the Lahore Archdiocese did not reveal that there was a criminal case in London. Lahore church leaders knew of its existence, according to a British church official's letter to one of Father Dominic's accusers.

Monsignor Brown said Father Dominic did mention the case but said it had been dismissed and he had been exonerated. He said he did not check the priest's claims with authorities.

Hearing details this week about Father Dominic's case was "disturbing," Monsignor Brown said. He said the U.S. church must rely on foreign bishops to be open and honest about their priests who come to this country to work.

After striking out in the United States, Father Dominic returned to his native Pakistan. Archbishop Saldanha said he worked at a Muslim school in Lahore and then found a Catholic leader who would take him in another part of Pakistan: Bishop Andrew Francis, leader of the Multan Diocese.

The priest became pastor of the Multan cathedral, "not with our permission," Archbishop Saldanha said. But after a while, Bishop Francis sent the priest back to Lahore.

"There was some personal animosity," said the archbishop, who added that he knew no details. Bishop Francis could not be reached for comment.

Next Father Dominic tried his luck in America again. And this time, he succeeded: The Newark Archdiocese put him to work in summer 2002, shortly after U.S. bishops passed a "zero tolerance" sexual abuse policy during their annual meeting in Dallas.

He was stationed at St. Francis of Assisi in Ridgefield Park on instructions from archdiocese headquarters, said Father Field, the priest who worked with him. He said he did not know who gave the instructions.

But the Newark archdiocesan office that oversees visiting priests said it had no record of Father Dominic. The Rev. William Fadrowski, who was executive director of clergy personnel in 2002, said he had never heard of the priest and didn't understand how he could have been allowed to work at St. Francis.

"It's very, very abnormal," Monsignor Fadrowski said.

Newark Archbishop John Myers said he, too, did not recognize Father Dominic's name and called his presence in a parish "odd."

"It certainly is not according to our policies and expectations," he said.

Archbishop Saldanha, head of the priest's home diocese in Pakistan, initially said he thought Father Dominic was living at the New Jersey church "on a private visit" and was not exercising his ministry.

Archbishop Myers did not ask whether the priest should be allowed to function, Archbishop Saldanha said. In a later interview, however, he said he had received a background check form from Newark but did not complete and return it.

Archbishop Saldanha also said that Father Dominic had occasionally said Mass while at St. Francis but that he was "not doing any pastoral work ... not dealing with people."

Father Dominic left St. Francis after about two months, according to Father Field, who said he thought the priest had returned to his home country because of problems with his religious worker's visa.

A friend of the bishop

It isn't clear where Father Dominic went after Newark. But by last October, he was living along northern Italy's Riviera, working in the quaint beach town of Albissola Marina and up in the hills at Ellera.

The Rev. Yusaf Dominic has been serving in the quaint beach town of Albissola Marina and up in the hills in the nearby village of Ellera along northern Italy's Riviera since last October. Photo by Mona Reeder / Staff Photographer.

In announcing the priest's appointment, the Savona-Noli Diocese newsletter described him as a friend of the bishop, the Rev. Domenico Calcagno.

Italian parishioners visit after Mass. Italy is at least the third nation where Father Dominic has worked since fleeing England. The News tracked him down after Scotland Yard failed. Photo by Mona Reeder / Staff Photographer.

The bishop told The News he had met Father Dominic when he traveled to Pakistan in the early 1990s, before assuming his current post. At the time, Bishop Calcagno said, he was a priest working at the Vatican's foreign missions office and Father Dominic was teaching in a Lahore seminary.

The bishop said Father Dominic came to his diocese last fall after the head of the Lahore Archdiocese requested a temporary placement for the priest while he worked on a book.

Bishop Calcagno turned pale when told by a reporter about the London criminal case and that church leaders in Pakistan were familiar with it.

"I am absolutely not aware of this," the bishop said. "This is very strange. I received a written fax from the bishop. He was asking me to help Father Dominic with his studies. To me there was no reason to suspect anything about it."

Archbishop Saldanha initially told The News that he didn't know where Father Dominic was and hadn't communicated with any Italian dioceses. But when he learned that the newspaper had located the priest and interviewed Bishop Calcagno, the archbishop acknowledged that he had given Father Dominic permission to "study theology and do some work in an old-age home, not work in a parish" in Italy.

Bishop Calcagno said he planned to keep Father Dominic on duty, "putting a close eye on him from now on." Archbishop Saldanha said he would ask Father Dominic "what he's really doing."

The priest continues to profess his innocence. Father Dominic said he sometimes cries out to God, asking why he has suffered so.

"They have really devastated all my priesthood," he said. "I'm just a helpless person."

Staff writer Brooks Egerton reported from Dallas, and staff writer Reese Dunklin reported from Albissola Marina. Freelance journalist Mark Williams-Thomas contributed from London.


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