S.B. Diocese May Pay for San Diego Priests' Sins
Sex-Abuse Payouts Could Cost Local Congregations

By Stacia Glenn
Daily Bulletin [California]
February 26, 2007

Emotional and financial shock waves likely will rip through the Inland Empire if the Diocese of San Diego declares bankruptcy.

Some people close to the situation believe it will place bigger financial burdens on local Catholics and prolong suffering for victims of sexual abuse by priests.

The Diocese of San Bernardino, which encompasses San Bernardino and Riverside counties, was part of the San Diego Diocese until 1978.

A diverse group, including former priests, both adult and child victims of sexual abuse, and lawyers close to the situation, say that the San Diego Diocese used the San Bernardino Diocese as a dumping ground for predator priests.

Several of the 143 cases of sexual abuse filed against the San Diego Diocese include priests who served in both areas.

One of the first Southern California cases to go to trial, set for Wednesday, involves a Colorado woman who claims she was coerced into having sex with the Rev. Patrick O'Keeffe at St. Adelaide Catholic Church in Highland in 1972.

In a church bulletin Feb. 18, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom warned parishioners that lawsuits of alleged abuse could force the diocese into bankruptcy because negotiations for settlements have been unsuccessful in a number of cases.

"Consequently, we must consider how best to fairly compensate the victims while at the same time not jeopardizing our overall mission," Brom wrote.

The San Diego Diocese is facing about $200 million in sex abuse claims against priests.

Attorney John Manly, who represents 18 people in Southern California and 300 nationwide who say they have been victimized by the church, said the ramifications could easily reach San Bernardino County.

"(Brom's) handing the people of San Bernardino a bill for essentially San Diego making San Bernardino a dumping ground for molesters for 40 years," Manly said. "This is just one more slap in the face of people who were victimized by priests in San Bernardino and San Diego."

In a brief statement, the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, said, "It is unfortunate that matters in San Diego have reached this point, and we continue to pray for a fair and just settlement for all the parties involved."

Lincoln declined to take any questions, so it could not be determined if the San Bernardino Diocese is expecting to be drawn into the maelstrom or if it is making plans to defend itself.

Many former priests and survivor groups have said problem priests for decades were sent to the desert areas and Indian reservations in the Inland Empire to keep them out of trouble elsewhere.

"San Bernardino is a horrible dumping ground," said Joelle Casteix, southwest regional director for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "You could send the bad guys down there and nothing would happen."

Members of SNAP see the San Diego Diocese filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a delaying tactic to avoid going to trial and airing Brom's "dirty secrets."

A potentially damaging case is that of former priest Edward Anthony Rodrigue, a twice-convicted child molester who was paroled last year and lives in San Bernardino County.

In court depositions, he admitted to abusing a hundred or more boys during a 20-year period. He was convicted in 1998 of molesting a mentally disabled boy in Highland.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz, who is coordinating the 800 sex-abuse cases in Southern California, recently ruled that church officials in the San Diego Diocese knew of Rodrigue's penchant for young boys but did nothing.

Rodrigue, 69, is accused of abusing at least 19 altar boys between 1967 and 1979 at churches in Ontario, Barstow, Calexico, El Centro and Encinitas.

In court documents, the former priest said both the San Diego and San Bernardino dioceses paid for his therapy but continued shuffling him to different churches around the country.

Rodrigue could not be reached for comment.

Members of SNAP have challenged the San Diego Diocese to disclose its assets before deciding on bankruptcy and allowing victims to put a letter in a bulletin to present parishioners with both sides of the story.

If the diocese files for bankruptcy, it would be the fifth of 196 dioceses nationwide that have sought this type of protection since the sex scandal broke earlier this decade.


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