Survivors' Group Urges Yakima Bishop to Skip Pope's Visit

Associated Press, carried in Seattle Times
April 11, 2008

The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yakima should forgo Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States next week as penance for continued secrecy surrounding sexual misconduct allegations against priests and diocese employees, a national support group for clergy sex abuse victims said.

In a letter Thursday to Bishop Carlos Sevilla, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests also said skipping the pope's visit might deter future recklessness by other church officials.

"By passing up this trip, and doing so in the name of accountability, you would send a powerful signal to others in the church that wrongdoing has consequences," the letter said.

"Otherwise, with no consequences, the message that Catholic employees and laity get is, 'Put kids at risk, be secretive about it, get caught, and all you have to do is apologize," the letter said. "That is a dangerous message."

The controversy centers on the hiring of a former seminarian in 2003 who was known to be under investigation over child pornography accusations. Police arrested the man on an outstanding warrant last month.

The group known as SNAP also chastised Sevilla for his handling of a former Yakima priest, who transferred to Oregon and was arrested on sexual assault charges against a 14-year-old girl. The priest pleaded guilty and was deported, SNAP said.

Sevilla had planned to attend events surrounding the pope's visit Tuesday through April 20 in Washington, D.C., and New York. But he may have to remain in Yakima to attend to a funeral, said Monsignor John Ecker, pastor of St. Paul Cathedral in Yakima, speaking for the diocese.

Regardless, Ecker said, "The decision will not be made on the basis of what SNAP has asked. If he doesn't go, it's because he'll be asked to celebrate the funeral of this woman who is dying right now."

Meanwhile, Juan Jose Gonzalez Rios awaits an April 22 extradition hearing stemming from 2003 allegations that he viewed child pornography. Gonzalez, 37, faces four charges of encouraging child sex abuse, a felony, according to Yakima County Superior Court records.

At the time, Gonzalez was a student at Mount Angel Seminary in Mount Angel, Ore., but he was dismissed in 2003. Oregon authorities did not issue an arrest warrant until 2005.

Sevilla hired Gonzalez in 2003 to work part time at the St. Peter Retreat Center in Cowiche, and he was promoted to director later that same year.

Sevilla has said he knew about the investigation but viewed the incident as an "isolated episode." He apologized for his handling of the matter to parishioners in some 40 Yakima Diocese parishes on Sunday.

Gonzalez was arrested March 19 following a traffic stop in Tieton, west of Yakima. He is being held at the Yakima County jail on $80,000 bond.

Earlier this week, SNAP urged Sevilla to suspend himself without pay for at least a month, but he declined.


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