Abuse Victims Group Aims to Penalize Salesians

By Gary Stern
The Journal News [New York]
June 24, 2004

A prominent advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse by priests is asking Catholics to withhold donations to the Salesian order, citing a report that several Salesian priests have been allowed to travel abroad to avoid accusations of abuse.

At a news conference yesterday outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests charged that the Salesians of Don Bosco, whose eastern U.S. province is headquartered in New Rochelle, could bring the accused priests to justice.

"The Salesians have the power to recall them," said David Cerulli, a SNAP leader in New York. "If they don't, they are complicit in the crimes. Withholding contributions may be the best way to get them to do the right thing."

The Dallas Morning News, in an extensive series published this week, charged that about 200 priests accused of abuse are hiding abroad and working in ministries. Two of the priests identified, the Rev. Frank Klep and the Rev. Enrique Vasquez, are Salesians. The News also accused Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of Honduras, a Salesian who is widely considered a candidate for pope, of sheltering Vasquez.

The Salesians' eastern U.S. province apologized in 2002 for allowing several members who had committed sexual abuse to continue serving in ministries. But in a statement this week, the Salesians' U.S. leaders said any implication that the order has systematically moved abusive priests from country to country is untrue.

"While one can find a few instances of failure in this regard among a Congregation numbering over 16,000 members, such a general characterization of the Salesians of Don Bosco is patently false and misleading," said the statement, signed by the Rev. James Heuser, provincial of the eastern province, and the Rev. David Purdy, provincial of the western province, based in San Francisco.

The statement said each Salesian province is autonomous, like dioceses, and allegations of abuse are handled by the province to which an accused priest or brother belongs.

According to the newspaper series, Vasquez fled criminal accusations in Costa Rica in 1998 before briefly serving in New York, Hartford, Conn., and Mexico. Then Rodriguez allowed Vasquez to serve in two Honduran parishes before he disappeared again, only days before police showed up to find him, according to the account.

Klep is wanted by police in his native Australia, but is being allowed by Salesians to live in Samoa with no active ministry, according to the News. He was allowed to study at Fordham University in 1987, even though he was accused of abuse as far back as the 1970s, when he served at a boarding school in Australia, the report said.

Cerulli said SNAP is asking law enforcement authorities to pursue the two priests. The group also is requesting that the Archdiocese of New York call for any victims of either priest to come forward for counseling and assistance.

The Salesians are the third-largest Catholic order in the world. They work in more than 120 countries, with many of their ministries focused on education.


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