Abuse Victim in Holy Week Fast outside Los Angeles Cathedral

By Arthur Jones
National Catholic Reporter
April 17, 2003

This Holy Week is special in Los Angeles. It's the first Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony will celebrate in his new cathedral.

This Holy Week is memorable, too, for what is happening outside the cathedral.

On the Temple Street sidewalk, Manuel Vega, a 36-year-old Oxnard, Calif., police officer, is in a 24/7 Holy Week bread-and-water fast to urge Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony to release all the internal archdiocesan files on priests. Vega, as an altar boy, was sexually abused by a priest who has since fled to Mexico.

For Holy Week, Manuel Vega (right), who as an altar boy was sexually abused by a priest who has since fled to Mexico, is holding a bread and water fast outside the new cathedral in Los Angeles. He is joined here by California State Sen. Joseph Dunn (center) and lawyer Larry Drivon.

Police, lawyers and victims believe those papers will reveal names that will help convict priest perpetrators who have escaped thus far. Especially in cases where, to date, there is only one accuser.

Mahony's lawyers are claiming exemption for some 2,000 documents, arguing they are protected by bishop-priest privilege.

Vega, a former U.S. Marine with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism, and Oxnard's police officer of the year in 2000, is no pushover. His fast is not a case of a lone protester up against a cardinal.

[A full report of Vega's Holy Week fast will be published in the NCR's April 25 issue.]

Vega, married with two young children, is sleeping each night of Holy Week in a small folding beach chair not far from the entrance to the cathedral plaza. He has some high-powered supporters.

Not least among them on April15 was California State Sen. Joseph Dunn, point man on some key sex abuse legislation in the state capitol, and lawyer Larry Drivon, who drafted the 2002 California legislation that suspended for 2003 the statute of limitations against suing employers of known child molesters.

Stopping by periodically to check on their brother officer were Los Angeles Police Department members such as Detective Dale Barraclough, head of the Juvenile Division's Sexually Exploited Children Unit, one of four detectives assigned to Los Angeles archdiocese molestation cases (see NCR, March 21).

Other abuse victims, aggrieved parents and a regular procession of local television camera crews, plus the print news reporters are visiting with Vega outside the cathedral.

Vega wants the archdiocese's documents out in the open. So does a father of six, a few yards away on the Temple Street sidewalk, who alleges that in 2001 a Los Angeles priest still in office abused three of his young sons.

To protect his children, NCR is not printing the family name. Nor is it publishing the name of the alleged priest perpetrator unless formal civil or criminal proceedings are pursued.

The father of the boys said he had reported the case to the police, who had investigated it. The priest denied the molestation, so it was the priest's word against that of three boys under 8 years. The father said his case needs corroborative evidence that the priest has been accused of abusing others.

The possibility of finding corroborative evidence in archdiocesan files motivates Vega. It is a way of helping other victims of abuse and their families, because Vega does not need such documents for his case. Vega has located 16 friends, altar boys at his childhood parish, who are ready to give evidence against their alleged molester, Fr. Fidencio Silva, a Missionary of the Holy Spirit, who served at Oxnard's Our Lady of Guadalupe from 1979 to 1986.

The Ventura County district attorney's office has filed 25 child molestation felony counts against Silva, last heard of in Mexico in 2002.

What troubles Vega most is the effect of all this on him and his family as Catholics.

As parents, he and his wife have become hypersensitive. "It tears me up inside because from my life experiences and as a police officer I've seen there are two pillars in life that we lean on. One based on family and the other on religion. And when one's lacking or both lacking, that's when we're having problems. Now, as a Catholic parent, I want to believe things will get better.

"In the end," he said, "I'm interested in bettering my church. I think the leadership here is lacking. This should have been handled a long time ago. The police are moving forward. This is a pivotal time."

He believes the documents have a lot more details and have to be released.

"That's what has to come out," he said. "We were told at first in Boston it was just a slice of the pie. Guess what, we have a whole pie here."

Meanwhile Vega is sleeping out and living on four slices of bread a day - one for breakfast, one for lunch, two for dinner, and all the water he can force down.

One thing for sure, he's safe on the sidewalk at night. No one's going to try to move him on, and the patrolling cars know they're keeping an eye on a colleague.


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