Priest Allowed Back to Duties
Rev. Ramos Was Convicted in 1992 for Inappropriately Touching Boys
By Felisa Cardona
Daily Bulletin [San Bernardino CA]
Downloaded June 07, 2003
SAN BERNARDINO - A priest convicted in 1992 of inappropriately touching three boys has been assigned to handle administrative duties for a religious order in the Diocese of San Bernardino, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes announced Friday.
After a year of reviewing the record of the Rev. Ponciano Ramos, Barnes decided the priest should be allowed to work as an administrator at the Society of the Divine Word in Riverside.
"The Bishop and the Diocesan Review Committee unanimously agreed that Father Ramos should be brought back to active ministry, but in a carefully structured and supervised manner," said diocesan spokesman the Rev. Howard Lincoln.
Steve Sanchez, a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the bishop's decision is a sign that he was turning his back on victims.
"If a teacher in a high school was accused and convicted of the same thing, would the San Bernardino school district allow that teacher to be there? Absolutely not," he said.
The touching occurred while Ramos was working at a school in Indianapolis. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges of battery and received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Lincoln said there was not enough evidence to convict Ramos of molestation because he did not appear to have touched the boys for the purpose of sexual gratification.
Several stink-bombs were set off at the Indianapolis school, and Ramos searched the boys to find out who did it, Lincoln said.
"He used poor judgment to investigate and used entirely inappropriate conduct, but it was not molestation of children," Lincoln said. "It was a search that went way, way beyond appropriate boundaries."
Ramos' last assignment was administrator for St. Mary of the Valley parish in Yucca Valley.
He resigned April 6, 2002, after the diocese was made aware of the touching incident when a reporter for the Chicago Tribune called to inquire about it.
Sanchez, who says he is a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, said the touching incident sounds suspicious.
"How do we know that he was searching for a stink-bomb?" Sanchez asked. "How do you know he's not trying to see who is vulnerable and who is not? Maybe this is his way of finding out who the next victim might be."
Mary Grant, southwest regional director of the survivors group, said the bishop is sending the wrong message to Catholics in his diocese by retaining Ramos.
"Clearly this diocese again just confirms what we knew all along it's not safe for kids," Grant said. "I can't even imagine after all that has happened that a bishop would want to continue to take the risk of having these abusers in the church. It's an intimidation and a threat to every child in that diocese."
Lincoln said the bishop is confident that Catholics of the diocese will respect his decision.
"Our diocese is very confident of Father Ramos' suitability for this ministry and the length of the proceedings shows Bishop Barnes' commitment to the protection of children," Lincoln said.
Barnes has met with Ramos at least four times in the last year and had several meetings with his supervisors.
Ramos also underwent a psychological evaluation and entered the four-month Clinical Pastoral Education program to learn better ways of relating with parishioners.
Lincoln said the program is intense and designed to help Ramos "improve a genuine and caring pastoral relationship with people."
Diocesan officials made the announcement public on Friday to demonstrate openness and accountability.
Lincoln characterized Ramos' return as a gradual re-entry into ministry.
Ramos won't be engaged in any public sacraments such as Masses, weddings, confessions or baptisms in the immediate future, but if he continues to do well, Ramos could return to those duties, Lincoln said.
Ramos won't have any unsupervised contact with minors, he said.
"(Barnes') approval of Father Ramos' assignment shows our commitment to justice and fairness," Lincoln said. "We believe the people will see that."
"They didn't know they had the same civil rights as other Americans," he said. "I spent a lot of time telling them about their rights and telling them that they can stand up and they will win. They don't have to sit back and take it."
Sherwyn Zephier said he sees this as the first step to creating closure and allowing healing to begin.
"I hope this lawsuit allows people to begin to heal the pain and trauma they have gone through," he said. "I also hope they will deal with the loss of family members who have committed suicide because they couldn't live with the pain.
"The church and government have ruled over our people. They have divided us, brainwashed us, and still we have family and friends who are real skeptical," he added.
"They think that because they survived the boarding schools, they are OK. But they're not OK. The effects of the boarding school experience have rippled out to other family members and other generations."
Frischer and Sherwyn Zephier urged anyone who has been abused to seek out a counselor or spiritual advisor.
"People need to go see them," Frischer said. "The Catholic Church has opened its doors to the victims of abuse. I feel that, if the abusers treat the abused, it is just abusing the abused again."
"It is too late for them to heal the hurt they caused," Zephier said. "There are a lot of recovering Catholics out there."
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