Diocese Also Misled on Yucca Valley Priest

By Joe Nelson
San Bernardino County Sun
April 9, 2002

A former provincial with the Society of the Divine Word said Monday the religious order was unaware that a misdemeanor battery conviction in 1992 of the Rev. Ponciano Ramos involved him touching the genitalia of three boys.

"If we had been aware of that aspect, we wouldn't have accepted him,' said the Rev. Gerald W. Leonard, who was provincial of the religious order's Western Province headquarters in Riverside in March 1994 when Ramos was assigned by the society to the Diocese of San Bernardino. Imperative to indicate Ramos was "assigned to the Diocese of San Bernardino and not "transferred.'>

Leonard is now pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church in San Bernardino, but also remains a member of the Society of the Divine Word.

Ramos was serving as administrator of of St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church in Yucca Valley when he resigned Saturday after the Diocese of San Bernardino learned he had sexually abused boys while serving as a pastor in Indianapolis.

Ramos was assigned to the San Bernardino Diocese at the recommendation of the Society of the Divine Word.

The society testified to Ramos' good moral character in its 1994 letter recommending Ramos' assignment to the diocese, saying he would "enrich our community,' said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the diocese.

The letter even mentioned Ramos' misdemeanor battery conviction in 1992, but indicated there was no sexual misconduct involved and that the matter had been resolved.

The letter did not specify the nature of the battery or the touching of genitalia, Lincoln said.

"I wish we received far more detail,' he said. "We do not doubt the sincerity of their recommendation of Father Ramos. The issue is that we hoped more details would have been provided.'

Leonard said the local province was unaware of the specifics of Ramos' 1992 conviction at the time and took it for granted he was in the clear.

"At the time, there was no further investigation warranted. It was a misdemeanor court case and he had faculties to function,' Leonard said.

Ramos was transferred from the Society's mission center in Techny, Ill., to Riverside in 1992, when he began serving as provincial treasurer, Leonard said.

"Everything was done in good faith,' he said. "Misdemeanor battery was an anger issue. As long as we kept that in check, (Ramos) was doing what he was supposed to be doing.'

Ramos underwent routine psychological counseling for anger management as a condition of his 18-month probation stemming from the Indianapolis conviction, Leonard said.

When asked if further inquiry should have been made into Ramos' conviction, Leonard responded: "Given the present climate of the times, absolutely. However, as this took place in 1993, I had every reason to believe with the information I had there was no reason to go into it any further.

"If there had been any hint in that material provided to us that there was the possibility of the father being a pedophile, of course we would have looked into it.'

When Lincoln was asked the same question, he sidestepped it.

"I wish we had received more detail,' he said.


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