Priest Held; Abuse Alleged : Arrest: Inland Sisters Say They Were Touched Many Times When He Lived in a Relative's Home.

By Scott Farwell
Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
April 24, 2002

A Fontana priest was arrested Tuesday for allegedly fondling two Rialto sisters over a four-year period at a home he had shared with their aunt, according to the Fontana Police Department.

The Rev. Honesto Bayranta Bismonte, 72, an associate pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pomona, allegedly touched the girls' breasts approximately 50 times while they were visiting their aunt, according to Fontana police Sgt. Robert Beltran.

Bismonte was arrested about 11 a.m. at his home on suspicion of two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child. He is being held at the West Valley Detention Center; bail has been set at $ 200,000.

Bismonte's Los Angeles attorney, Donald H. Steier, said his client may be a victim of hysteria spawned by the controversy engulfing the church, which included revelations in recent weeks that an admitted pedophile had worked in the Diocese of San Bernardino in the early 1990s.

The girls, who are now 13 and 17, were interviewed by detectives after one of them told officials at their school, according to Beltran. The school reported the allegations to Child Protective Services, and police were called.

The arrest came even as Pope John Paul II met Tuesday with American cardinals at the Vatican to discuss the widening scandal of priests accused of sexually abusing children.

The pontiff condemned the abuse of children as both sinful and illegal in a statement Tuesday.

Steier said Bismonte had hired him within the past week.

"Based on all the media attention that currently exists regarding . . . Catholic priests, I'm not surprised that allegations are being made," he said. "The only fair thing to do is to look at each case on its merits and at the people making the claims as individuals."

Steier said he had not discussed the specific allegations with Bismonte.

"We're very concerned," said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which includes Pomona. "Father Bismonte has been removed from his position in the ministry pending outcome of the police department investigation."

The archdiocese will cooperate fully with the police investigation, Tamberg added.

"There was some hesitancy on the part of the victims and the victim's mother," Beltran said. That reluctance was at least partly due to the respect Bismonte held as a priest.

Beltran would not say why the girls had come forward.

"It may compromise our investigation at this time," he said.

A parishioner at St. James said Tuesday that Bismonte's frailty and advanced diabetes make the allegations difficult to believe. The woman, who would identify herself only as Francisca, said she saw Bismonte at the Pomona church Monday. She said the priest frequently heard confessions and had been at the church less than a year.

Bismonte's arrest may add fuel to the flames of controversy that have engulfed the church in the weeks since it was revealed that the Boston archdiocese had lied to church officials in San Bernardino about the background of a priest transferred to St. Anne Catholic Church in 1990.

The Rev. Paul Shanley, who was removed from his position three years later, has spoken in favor of sex between men and boys. He is being sued by a massachusetts man who is accusing the priest of

raping him repeatedly.


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