Woman Alleges Sexual Abuse against Former Salesian High Clergyman

By Scott Marshall
San Jose Mercury News
February 28, 2008

RICHMOND -- A woman came forward Thursday and alleged that she was sexually abused by a Catholic clergyman at Salesian High School in the 1960s, during visits to the school with her family and also at her home.

It was the second public allegation against the former clergyman, John Vas, now 86 and living in Florida, who formerly was a band instructor at the private school and a brother in the Salesian order.

Since the 1950s, when Salesian was a seminary, six clergymen there have been accused of abuse. Another three who once worked there were accused after they left the campus.

Rose Harper, 54, of Fairfield, said she decided to come forward after reading a newspaper story earlier this month about a sex-abuse lawsuit against a Salesian clergyman that was dismissed in January.

Harper appeared Thursday outside the front gate at Salesian High School in Richmond, to make the allegation publicly as Joey Piscitelli of Martinez, director of the Northern California chapter of the Survival Network of Those Abused by Priests and himself a former victim, handed out fliers to parents and students as they came and went.

In 2006, A Contra Costa County jury awarded $600,000 to Piscitelli after finding he was sexually abused by a priest from 1969 to 1971 while he was a student at Salesian High School freshman and sophomore.

Harper said Vas molested her at the school when her brother was a student and in the band. Her parents volunteered at the school and took her along, and Vas "would just follow me." Vas, who was welcome at Harper's childhood home and friends with her parents, molested her there as well as at the school, she alleged.

"He would just sort of turn up, wherever I was," said Harper, who said the molestation began when she was 7 and continued for nearly seven years, until 1967 or 1968. Harper's mother discouraged her from telling because her father would not believe it, Harper said.

"It took my feeling of self worth," said Harper, who expected no response from the Salesian Society. "He took something from me I didn't even know I had at that age."

Salesian Principal Tim Chambers said Thursday he had no information about the allegation. "We feel the environment here at the school is very safe," he said.

Harper, who filed a report with Richmond police on Thursday, confronted Vas in a phone call that Vas' wife confirmed Thursday to the Times.

"I called him because I wanted to make sure it was him," said Harper, who immediately recognized Vas' thick Hungarian accent.

"He said hello. I didn't know if I would hang up or keep talking," Harper recalled, standing outside the front gate at Salesian High School in Richmond.

She asked if he remembered her and if he had taught at Salesian.

"He said, 'What is this about?'" Harper recalled. "I said, 'You molested me as a child, you ruined my childhood.'"

He didn't respond, and she told him: "I hope you rot in hell." Vas hung up.

Vas' wife of 38 years, Edna, listened in when she happened to pick up another phone at the same time and confirmed the conversation. She said her husband has no recollection of Harper's allegation and said he was not at Salesian in 1967 or 1968.

Vas likely cannot be prosecuted. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of California law permitting prosecution of some decades-old molestation cases.

Two other clergymen who faced allegations of sexual abuse have since returned to area churches.

The Rev. Chris Berbena returned to St. John Vianney Catholic Church on Sunday, to the applause of members. The Diocese of Oakland concluded that an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor could not be substantiated.

Piscitelli and a small band of protesters distributed fliers on a recent Sunday morning in Pleasanton when the Rev. Padraig Greene was chosen to become pastor of both St. Augustine and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic churches.

Greene was arrested in 1999 for performing a sex act on himself in a public restroom at an Oakland Hills sports center.

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