The Region
Priest Is Arrested; Molesting Alleged
Church: Two Sisters Claim Elderly Fontana Cleric Abused Them for Four Years.

By Buck Wargo
Los Angeles Times
April 24, 2002

A priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Pomona was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of molesting two young sisters when they visited his Fontana apartment over a four-year period.

Father Honesto Bayranta Bismonte, 72, was arrested at the home he shares with the girls' aunt in Fontana, said Fontana Police Sgt. Robert Beltran. Bismonte was being held late Tuesday at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. Bail was set at $200,000 and no arraignment date has been scheduled.

The sisters were about 8 and 12 at the time they allege the abuse began, Beltran said. During an interview with detectives Monday, the two accused Bismonte of fondling them some 50 times between 1997 and 2001, the sergeant said.

The abuse is alleged to have occurred when the girls visited their aunt at another apartment she shared with Bismonte in Fontana, Beltran said.

Bismonte's attorney, Don Steier of Los Angeles, said he was hired Monday and hadn't had a chance to talk to his client in detail about the accusations.

Steier said he believes the girls' family went to Bismonte with the allegations last week and told him that authorities were investigating. Bismonte in turn reported the allegations and investigation to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Steier said.

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg confirmed that church leaders learned of the allegations last week and placed Bismonte on leave Friday.

Beltran said police learned of the allegations Monday from a school official, whom he declined to identify. Bismonte declined to talk to investigators, he said.

Father Hisham Dabaen, a priest at St. Joseph's, said of the allegations, "I really don't believe it, because he's an old man."

Bismonte was arrested as U.S. Roman Catholic cardinals were meeting with the pope in Rome to discuss the widening sex abuse scandal in the church.

His attorney said the current climate fosters such claims.

"I am not surprised that the allegations are being made at this point, with all the publicity generated about the clergy and sexual misconduct," Steier said. "Each case will be examined on its own merits ... Some of the claims will be valid and some will not be, like the one made against the cardinal [Roger M. Mahony] a week ago."

Archdiocese spokesman Tamberg said, "Of course, we are very concerned when allegations like this are made. I think our policy is very clear, and it shows our concern whenever allegations are made against a priest for this type of conduct.

"The priest is removed. We don't have all the details yet, but we are very interested to hear the results."


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