Reports Show Failure of Therapy for Priests
Pedophile Clerics Often Continued to Abuse Children during and after Treatment, and Were Allowed to Continue in Ministry

By Jean Guccione and William Lobdell
Los Angeles Times [California]
May 25, 2005

Documents released Tuesday reveal the failure of the Diocese of Orange's decades-old strategy of trying to cure pedophile priests with therapy, detailing how the clerics continued to abuse young boys while in treatment but were cleared by psychologists to return to the ministry.

The files also show that Roman Catholic officials ignored a recommendation to limit one cleric to an adults-only ministry and allowed him to set and enforce his own rules against being alone with children.

The hundreds of pages of psychotherapist reports, billings and other internal memos were the latest documents released as part of a court-approved $100-million settlement reached in December between the Orange diocese and 90 alleged victims.

Last week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman ordered the production of more than 10,000 pages from the confidential personnel files of 15 accused priests and teachers.

Those papers document the transfer of predator priests from parish to parish and diocese to diocese, as well as efforts to protect them from prosecution while failing to warn parishioners of the danger.

The newly released reports detail the psychological evaluation and treatment of nine priests ordered into counseling after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced — a typical church response until a "zero tolerance" policy was adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002, requiring removal of abusive priests.

Several priests underwent failed attempts at therapy — some costing the Orange diocese more than $3,000 a month, the papers show.

The reports reveal failed efforts to rehabilitate three of Orange County's most notorious predator priests, Siegfried Widera, Andrew Christian Andersen and Eleuterio "Al" Ramos.

In the case of a fourth priest, Michael Pecharich, a psychologist recommended to Orange Bishop Norman F. McFarland in 1996 that the cleric — who admitted to repeatedly molesting a boy — be restricted to an adults-only ministry, a therapist report shows.

The psychologist urged McFarland to keep Pecharich away from altar boys, catechism classes and other church activities involving unsupervised contact with children, according to a 1996 psychological assessment and report.

Instead, church officials allowed Pecharich to remain for six more years as pastor of south Orange County's San Francisco Solano Church, across the street from Santa Margarita High School and affiliated with a nearby Catholic elementary school.

According to notes from a 1997 meeting, McFarland and Msgr. John Urell, who investigated sex abuse allegations at the time, ordered Pecharich to abide by his own self-imposed restrictions, which included never being alone with a minor.

Pecharich asked his supervisors if he should tell a parish staff member about his new rules, according to the notes signed and dated by Urell. "It was decided there was no reason to do so," the note said.

After he admitted kissing and inappropriately touching a boy four times a decade earlier, the priest was praised for his honesty by both his therapists and church officials, the reports say. Six more abuse allegations were later made against Pecharich.

In 2002, Pecharich was removed from ministry by Bishop Tod D. Brown under a court-approved "one strike" policy to get rid of molesting priests.

Pecharich, 59, of Long Beach, remains a priest but is barred from ministry. He has declined to comment about the allegations against him.

Church officials also let another priest, Widera, decide his own fate, the documents show.

Before Widera joined the Orange diocese in 1977, he had been convicted of molesting a boy in Milwaukee and had another allegation pending. Orange church officials took him anyway.

But when Widera was accused of molesting three boys in Orange County in 1985, Bishop William R. Johnson gave him three options: get treatment, go to a monastery or leave the priesthood, according to new documents.

A note in his file at that time stated "No one else will take you."

The priest opted for therapy at a residential treatment center run by the Servants of the Paraclete religious order in Jemez Springs, N.M., where he was diagnosed with pedophilia, a report says.

At the center, Widera admitted he molested at least 10 boys in Orange County, according to a psychological evaluation.

Despite his earlier conviction, diagnosis of deviancy and confession, the director of the treatment facility worked to find Widera a post in another diocese after Orange refused to take him back.

"I believe that Siegfried is truly a good minister and will continue to be a good minister within the church. It would be a shame for him not to be able to find a bishop who would accept him," stated a 1986 progress report to Johnson. Widera dropped out of the treatment program and became a businessman.

Widera was charged with 42 counts of molestation in Orange County and Milwaukee in 2002. He was on the run for a year, mostly in Mexico, and in 2003 leaped to his death from a hotel window in Mazatlan when cornered by authorities. He was 62.

In 1986, Andersen, another diagnosed pedophile, was convicted in Orange County on 26 counts of felony molestation and faced 56 years in prison. As an alternative to prison, a judge ordered him to the same New Mexico facility that had treated Widera.

During a counseling session that same year, Andersen was asked whether psychoanalysis had helped him curb his sexual appetite for children, the psychiatric reports show.

"In the beginning of therapy, I was still acting out with the kids but after 22 months of therapy, I stopped!!!" Andersen told his psychiatrist, according to a 1986 report to then-Orange Auxiliary Bishop John T. Steinbock, now bishop of Fresno.

"To me, this is an absolute travesty," his psychiatrist wrote in Andersen's monthly progress report to the diocese. "His therapy cost the diocese over $10,000 and while he was undergoing it, he was continuing to act out sexually with kids."

At first Andersen was described in reports as "a very troubled man" unable to reform himself after years of therapy.

By 1988, as he progressed in counseling, a therapist recommended that Andersen celebrate a public Mass at a senior citizens home.

"He has every intention of remaining in the priesthood and we fully agree that he work to do so," wrote Father Theodore Isaias, a director of the Servants of the Paraclete facility.

A year later, in 1989, Andersen was regularly saying Mass at a local hospital and for a male religious order, over the objections of Bishop McFarland of Orange, the reports show.

Andersen was arrested in Albuquerque in 1990 on suspicion of trying to sodomize a 14-year-old boy, and was ordered to serve six years in prison for violating his probation in the California case.

He was defrocked in the mid-1990s, and his whereabouts are unknown.

The Servants of the Paraclete has closed its treatment program in Jemez Springs, admitting that "mistakes were made," according to a congregation history on the order's website. The congregation blamed negative media reports and "a prevailing litigious spirit" for the closure.

Another admitted pedophile, Ramos was treated for alcoholism at a different Catholic-run residential treatment center in 1979 and 1980, even though Orange church officials knew at the time of at least one complaint that he had given boys alcohol and showed them adult movies in the rectory, the reports state.

When Ramos returned to Orange County, he spent a year in therapy "to work through his emotional difficulties of a sexual nature," according to the therapist's report.

His therapy terminated in May 1982, and he won praise for his work.

"We are very happy for Father Ramos whom we have always considered a wonderful priest and we know that he is now even more capable of exercising his ministry within the Diocese of Orange," wrote then-Chancellor Michael P. Driscoll, who now serves as bishop of Boise.

Ramos told police in 2003 that he had had sex with or fondled at least 25 boys. One accuser said in court papers that Ramos and three other men gang-raped him as an boy in a San Diego hotel room in 1984.

The priest was transferred to Tijuana a year later, and died last year at age 64.