DA Charges Pomona Priest for Lewd Acts with Minor Riverside Clergyman Tipped off Authorities to Alleged Abuse

By Rod Leveque
San Bernardino Sun (San Bernardino, CA)
April 29, 2002

FONTANA Sexual abuse accusations against a Roman Catholic priest who lived in Fontana came to police attention through a clergyman at a Catholic high school in Riverside, court documents released Thursday show.

A teen-aged girl confided in the clergyman that she was suicidal as a result of years of molestation by the Rev. Honesto Bayranta Bismonte, according to the documents.

Prosecutors charged Bismonte, 72, Thursday with four counts of committing lewd acts with a minor.

They allege Bismonte, an assistant pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pomona, molested two young sisters inside his home in Fontana between 1997 and 2001.

He was not working in his official capacity as a priest when the alleged incidents occurred, authorities said.

The girls, now 13 and 17-years-old, were fondled repeatedly over the five-year period, according to the criminal complaint filed against Bismonte in Fontana Superior Court on Thursday.

Fontana police arrested Bismonte at his home Tuesday.

Deputy District Attorney Briye McCann, who filed the case, said the charges encompass as many as 50 incidents over the five-year time span.

"It doesn't mean that there wasn't more than one act during that time period,' McCann said of the four charges. "But sometimes filing 50 charges just gets excessive.'

Bismonte could be arraigned in Fontana Superior Court as early as today.

His lawyer, Gregory Kassel, said Thursday that evidence he will turn over to prosecutors will exonerate Bismonte.

"Once [prosecutors] have all the evidence they will do the right thing,' Kassell said, declining to elaborate.

Bismonte was placed on leave from his church after allegations surfaced last week.

According to police reports filed in support of Bismonte's arrest, one of the two young victims confided to a clergyman at a Catholic high school in Riverside that Bismonte committed sexual acts against her.

The clergyman then contacted San Bernardino County Child Protective Services, which contacted police, according to the reports.

The clergyman, whose name is being withheld by The Sun, was reached at his home Thursday evening, but declined to comment citing concerns for the welfare of the alleged victims.

But in e-mails the girl wrote to him, she described several instances in which she believed Bismonte molested her.

The girl wrote that Bismonte would pull her down onto his lap, hold her tightly and fondle her breasts when she approached him to offer a blessing.

"I was trying to get away from him but it just felt that his grip was so strong,' the girl wrote.

She described another instance in which he snapped pictures of the girls and tried to convince them to undress during a visit to a Southern California beach.

"I felt very uncomfortable around him, scared,' the girl wrote. "I even wore baggy clothes so that I wouldn't feel a thing.'

The second girl told police during an interview Wednesday that Bismonte would regularly hug her very hard across her breast area, according to the reports.

In at least one instance, Bismonte pulled her onto his lap, reached his hands inside her shirt and fondled her chest, she told police.

The girls said Bismonte lived with their aunt inside a Fontana apartment, and that going there made them uncomfortable.

The girls said they told their mother about the incidents about six months ago.

Bismonte's arrest comes in the in the midst of national scrutiny over the ways in which the Roman Catholic Church has dealt with priests accused of child sex abuse.

According to the archdiocese's Web site, Bismonte was associate pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Gardena before arriving in Pomona.

Bismonte remains in custody at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $200,000 bail.


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