" I Had to Let the Process Run Its Course"
Following Three-Year Investigation, Oakland Bishop Reinstates Priest Once Accused of Molesting Minor

California Catholic Daily
February 29, 2008

Bishop Allen Vigneron, heeding the recommendations of a Diocese of Oakland review panel, has reinstated to active ministry a priest once accused of molesting a minor.

"I think it is a disgrace, an utter disgrace," Joey Piscitelli, Northern California director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the Feb. 26 San Jose Mercury News, referring to Vigneron's decision.

Piscitelli opined that "it's because of a shortage of priests" that dioceses reinstate priests like Franciscan Father Chris Berbena, who will shortly resume ministry at St. John Vianney parish in Walnut Creek. Berbena was parochial vicar there until 2004, when the diocese put him on a leave of absence.

That year, Berbena's name appeared in the Los Angeles archdiocese's Report to the People of God, which provided a list of priests accused of having sexually molested minors. The report indicated that Berbena had one accusation against him, alleging an incident or incidents as occurring in 1980.

Berbena was reinstated after a diocesan review board said it could not find any evidence that the molestation had ever occurred. Then, in 2006, Berbena became part of a settlement between the Order of Friars Minor and plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit, who claimed that ten Franciscan priests in the greater Los Angeles area had molested them. As part of the settlement the ten priests neither admitted nor denied the accusations. Following the settlement, the Diocese of Oakland again removed Berbena from active ministry.

The diocese then opened another formal investigation into the allegations against Berbena. The panel concluded there was no evidence of misconduct against the priest, and recommended that he be reinstated to active ministry.

In a Feb. 23-24 statement to St. John Vianney parish, Vigneron said he had "complete trust in the Diocesan Review Board," which took three years to reach to finish its evaluation of Berbena. "Surely this was an excruciating length of time for Fr. Berbena who has steadfastly maintained his innocence while his good name and the fidelity of his priesthood have been questioned," said Vigneron. "As your bishop, I feel myself morally bound and committed to abide by the procedures we have instituted to ensure the safety of our children and I had to let the process run its course no matter how much time it took or the outcome it determined. I ask for your trust and support of him."


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