2 Brothers' Suit Accuses Priests of Molestation
The alleged victims, now 22 and 25, contend they were abused by two clergymen while in the boys choir at a Santa Barbara seminary

By Fred Alvarez
Los Angeles Times
December 30, 2004

Two brothers have filed suit against the Franciscan Friars of California and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging sexual abuse by two priests at a Santa Barbara seminary.

The suit alleges that the brothers, now 22 and 25, were repeatedly molested while members of the boys choir at St. Anthony's Seminary from 1989 to 1994.

The suit, filed Dec. 15 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, identified the seminary priests as Robert Van Handel and Gerald Heather.

Van Handel was convicted of child abuse in 1994, sentenced to eight years in prison and now lives in Santa Cruz as a registered sex offender, according to the lawsuit and court records. Heather is reportedly living overseas.

According to the suit, the Friars and the archdiocese allowed Van Handel to establish and oversee the boys choir at St. Anthony's despite knowing the threat he posed to children. To date, 16 victims allegedly abused by Van Handel have been identified in Santa Barbara, the lawsuit said.

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg declined to comment, saying he hadn't seen the suit. The Friars could not be reached for comment.

Santa Barbara attorney David L. Nye, whose firm has filed a dozen suits against the Friars and the archdiocese for alleged molestations at St. Anthony's, said his clients' lives have been turned upside down.

"Like a lot of victims of childhood sexual abuse, they are finally realizing that they were molested and the impact that's having on their day-to-day lives," Nye said. "In our experience, the impact is extreme and goes on forever."

A string of lawsuits has documented priest abuse at St. Anthony's Seminary, which also served as a boarding home for young boys.

The boarding home portion of the complex closed in 1987. A 1993 investigation by a church-appointed Board of Inquiry found that 11 priests had abused 34 students at the seminary from the 1960s to 1987.

The older brother in the latest suit, who was recruited to join the choir in the third grade at San Roque Catholic School, was molested numerous times between the ages of 9 and 12 while at St. Anthony's and on choir trips, the suit alleged.

The younger brother was allegedly assaulted when he was 7 to 10.

"On repeated occasions, defendants allowed [molesting priests] to remain in the county after receiving complaints of misconduct from victims, from members of the community, and even from fellow priests," the lawsuit said. "In none of these instances did defendants ever warn county residents of the identities of the child-abusing clergy in their midst until they knew the truth was about to be made public."


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