Accused Molester Is Still Priest

By Jennifer Garza
Sacramento Bee [Sacramento CA]
Downloaded April 25, 2003

A priest accused of sexually molesting at least a dozen young boys in the Sacramento area 30 years ago, and presumed dead, is alive and serving in a church in Tacoma, Wash.

Father Mario Blanco, who was ordered out of the Sacramento Diocese in 1973, is pastor of Our Mary Help of Christians Church, a small traditionalist chapel that operates outside the Roman Catholic Church and does not accept the authority of the current papacy.

Blanco served in the Sacramento Diocese from Oct. 23, 1969, to April 5, 1973, and was dismissed following a church investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Diocesan officials later settled two cases in which the priest was accused of sexual assault. Since last April, at least 10 men have sued the diocese alleging they were molested by Blanco.

Sacramento Bishop William Weigand said in an interview last summer that the cases involving Blanco were "the most serious ever in the diocese."

Church officials said they knew that Blanco stayed in the Sacramento area for some time after he was dismissed from the diocese, but they lost track of him and believed he had died.

"We thought he was dead because we hadn't heard from him or anything about him in more than 20 years," said the Rev. David Deibel, vicar episcopal for canonical affairs for the diocese.

But for more than a decade, Blanco has been serving in the Pacific Northwest at the small church where traditionalists practice 16th-century Catholic rituals, such as a Latin-only Tridentine Mass.

In a recent phone interview, Blanco denied the allegations against him.

"I knew about these claims. But they are not true, not true," said Blanco. "I don't know why these men would say such things."

Now 74, he said he was in ill health, having suffered a stroke and a heart attack in recent years. He declined to comment further, saying he had to leave for an appointment.

The news that Blanco is alive and still serving as a priest stunned his accusers.

"I have clients, grown men, sobbing on the phone when I tell them. They can't believe it. They're upset. ... It's like a horror movie," said attorney Joseph George, who represents several men in their claims against the Sacramento Diocese.

George said that now that his clients know Blanco is alive, they will file police reports detailing their allegations.

"Our hope is that he will be brought to justice," he said.

Lupe Lopez and Aurelio Berumen are the only two men named in the two current lawsuits filed in Sacramento Superior Court. The others are referred to as John Does. Lopez, 45, works for the state Employment Development Department and alleges in the complaint that Blanco molested him. In an interview, he described himself as a shy 12-year-old when he said Blanco molested him.

"It's something that always stays with you," said Lopez, after learning that Blanco is alive. "I want to see him on trial."

Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Lori Greene said the statute of limitations may not have elapsed, depending on the nature of the allegations.

"If the criteria is met, then we have one year from the time of the initial report to file charges," she said.

Blanco, who was born in Costa Rica, was a popular priest when he served in the Sacramento Diocese. Few Spanish-speaking clergy served then, and Blanco, like other priests, floated among several parishes with large Latino congregations. A talented musician, he started youth bands at several churches by recruiting young people from the parish to join his groups.

Today, Blanco's accusers are men in their 30s and 40s. They said Blanco preyed on the most vulnerable -- poor kids whose parents spoke little English and may have been here illegally. Some of them had recently lost their fathers. Their mothers found solace in the church.

Since 1990, Blanco has worked in Tacoma, according to people who have visited his church and public records. He often travels to cities around the country, celebrating Mass for traditionalists, parishioners said. They also said he has a small but devoted following.

Traditionalists follow centuries-old church law and rituals. Women cover their heads in church. The priest celebrates Mass facing the altar. They reject post-Vatican II reforms as well as any pope who does not follow traditionalist ways. Religion scholars estimate 100,000 people belong to the movement.

"He's a schismatic priest. He has no authority from Rome or any diocese, and I want to make that clear," said Deibel, who said he recently heard that Blanco was alive "through the grapevine."

Church leaders who handled the allegations against Blanco have since died. Deibel said that what the current leaders know from their records is that Blanco "was involved in behavior."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.