Public Applauds Bishop's Reaction to Scandal

By Geralda Miller
Reno Gazette-Journal (Nevada)
July 1, 2006

Bishop Randolph Calvo's quick and public reaction last week to allegations of a priest's misconduct with a minor has been applauded by parishioners but criticized by a victim's advocate.

Calvo announced during Sunday Mass at St. Therese the Little Flower Church that its pastor, the Rev. Honesto Agustin, is taking a voluntary leave of absence while the allegations are investigated.

"I take these allegations very seriously," Calvo said in a written statement released June 24. "There is no place in ministry for those who would harm the young."

Calvo, ordained in February as bishop of the Diocese of Reno, then said the Catholic Church must be accountable in the sex abuse scandal that has plagued the denomination in the United States.

How Calvo handles the allegations will determine the level of trust church members will begin to have toward its church leaders, said two members of Little Flower.

Villy Tabbada, a member of the parish, said Calvo acted "expeditiously, fairly and justly."

"He wants to protect both sides," Tabbada said. "At the same time, he wants the truth. It's very balanced. I believe he's going to be a good bishop."

Tabbada's 16-year-old son, Tim, said Calvo's openness gives him security.

"As a minor, I feel it was reassuring that he is very caring for minors," he said.

David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said he applauded the person who filed the complaint with the Reno Police Department and described Calvo's action as nominal.

"I would characterize what the bishop as done as something between the bare minimum and a good first start," Clohessy said. "I wish he would have spoken more emphatically.

"I hope that the bishop will convey the message that silence hurts the church, and the diocese as a whole. One press release can't magically reverse a decades old tradition of obsessions with secrecy."

Lonnie Feemster, a Little Flower parishioner, said Calvo's action has alerted the diocese that he wants things handled openly.

"Not dealing with it in an honest and up front way with parishioners has done its own damage," Feemster said. "I think he's saying we're going to be up front with these, which is refreshing, because we don't need what we had. I applaud him for trying to put a different strategy for making people feel that they are getting the truth."

The allegations under Calvo are not the first in the diocese.

Four of six people who claimed abuse by three priests in the Reno diocese during the 1960s and '70s have said they planned to file lawsuits. SNAP urged Bishop emeritus Phillip F. Straling, who retired in July, to reveal what he knows about cases that occurred while he worked as a priest in San Diego and as a bishop in Southern California before coming to Reno in 1995. Not accused of abuse, Straling is a key witness in dozens of lawsuits filed against priests accused of molesting children in Southern California.

Legal matters are nothing new for Calvo. He received a doctorate in canon law in 1986 from the University of St. Thomas in Rome. The 10 years before his appointment to a parish, Calvo headed the canon law department as judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Canon law is the legislation that governs the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church.

Sgt. Dave Evans, who heads the sex crimes and child abuse unit, said the department will investigate the complaint involving a minor. Brother Matthew Cunningham, chancellor of the diocese, said Calvo followed the guidelines provided in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.

Cunningham said Calvo was too busy to talk to the newspaper.

An attempt to reach Agustin was made Friday evening. A message was left at the church office. A home telephone number could not located for him.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the conference, said the diocese should "act as quickly as possible, reach out to all the people involved, and be as open as possible."

"People are horrified when this happens," she said. "Even a parish needs pastoral care."

The Rev. Chuck Durante, pastor of Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church, was appointed temporary administrator for the parish, Cunningham said.


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