|Sex Abuse Charges Prompt Wider Investigation
By Jane Gargas
April 18, 2009
Arrest unrelated to former volunteer's service with Catholic youth ministry
YAKIMA — A local Catholic outreach organization is grappling with the possibility that one of their former volunteers may be a sex offender.
Reach Youth Ministry, which is headquartered in Cowiche, is in the process of investigating whether Bryce Record, 22, may have had inappropriate contact with minors during his nine months of service as a youth volunteer in 2005-06.
No evidence has come to light that he did, authorities said.
Record, who grew up in Selah, was arrested in November on sexual abuse charges unrelated to his tenure at Reach. He was charged with four counts of child molestation and two counts of child rape. He is free on bail. Several sources said he's attending college out of town.
His next hearing in Yakima County Superior Court is set for June. A phone call seeking comment from Spokane attorney Bryan Whitaker, who is representing Record, was not returned.
Record is alleged to have abused five children -- four girls and a boy -- from two different families in separate incidents in the Selah area, beginning in 2001 and lasting until 2008. The children, whom authorities say Record knows, ranged in age from 3 to 9.
According to Stew Graham, Yakima County Sheriff's Office chief of detectives, no other victims have come forward. The five children involved in the case were not connected to the Reach ministry, Graham said Friday.
Record joined Reach as a volunteer in October 2005 after graduating from Davis High School that spring.
Reach is a nonprofit, evangelistic retreat program located on the campus of Saint Juan Diego Catholic Church at 15880 Summitview Road in Cowiche. Volunteers, who come from all over the country, work in teams of six to eight people. They range in age from 18 to 30. After training, they are sent around the Northwest to lead retreats for teens and youth.
In its 30-year existence, Reach has never had an incident of molestation reported, according to Dan Bartleson, executive director.
When Bartleson learned about Record's arrest, he began contacting all the parishes where the young man had volunteered. He said he sent letters and talked to pastors and youth pastors in about 40 parishes in 12 different dioceses.
Bartleson requested that the pastors conduct an investigation to determine if any inappropriate behavior had occurred.
"The goal of the letters was to get information to parents," Bartleson explained. "People need to know (about the arrest); people have a right to know."
There has been no negative response so far. "That's our hope, that no one (else) was victimized," Bartleson said.
Yakima County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brenna Nelson, who is in charge of Record's case, said Friday there is an ongoing investigation and law enforcement officials will follow up if there are any further allegations.
Bartleson noted that Record was charged with abuse after his voluntary service with Reach ended.
However, even the possibility that something untoward might be connected to the Reach ministry is very disquieting, Bartleson said. "If there was an incident related to the good work we're trying to do, that would be the most devastating thing I could imagine."
When the allegations came to light, Bartleson said he was shocked. "It's such a brutal reality," he said.
He described Record as an exemplary volunteer.
"I've interviewed everyone on his team and lots of people in the parishes where they served. Everyone was floored," he said.
Part of the training given to Reach volunteers is how to recognize signs of predatory behavior on the part of adults toward children.
"Knowing that he (Record) heard that in training is a little chilling," said Bartleson, who has led Reach for the past three and a half years.
The Rev. Robert Siler, chief of staff of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, pointed out that Reach is using "an abundance of caution" in contacting people where Record served.
"Obviously, we're taking this very seriously," Siler said. "Our focus is to find out if anything improper happened during his ministry."
Although Reach leases quarters from the Yakima Diocese, it has not been affiliated with the diocese for the last year and a half. Instead, the organization operates as part of Catholics in Action, a nonprofit youth ministry headquartered in Zillah.
Siler explained that even though Reach is no longer under its auspices, the diocese continues to work closely with the organization, with Bartleson keeping the diocese apprised of each step in responding to the allegations of abuse.
The diocese is taking a layered approach in handling the situation, Siler said.
"Without presuming guilt, these are very serious charges," he said.
The chief of staff said Bishop Carlos Sevilla doesn't feel a public statement is necessary at this time. "We have not received a report that he (Record) abused anyone while serving his mission, but we are concerned about the charges against him," Siler said.
That response isn't enough, argued Robert Fontana, leader of the local Voice of the Faithful group, which advocates change in the church.
"Once there was an arrest, the diocese should have called a press conference or issued a statement," Fontana said.
He pointed out that Record may have had contact with other local children, but their parents may not know about the arrest.
"When a child has been defiled, then you have to tell the public that the abuse has happened. Parents need to be told so they can speak to their children," he said.
Siler disagreed, saying that the diocese wants to avoid inflaming the situation. "We're targeting the people who could be the most directly affected," he said.
"I don't see that this case merits more than that. The person charged hasn't had a chance to go to trial. He should have the presumption of innocence."
In a statement, Barbara Dorris, outreach director in Chicago for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the group was puzzled by the diocese's lack of action.
"Bishop Carlos Sevilla has chosen to sit back and wait for the victims and the media to do outreach to anyone who may have been hurt," she said. "He could have followed the words of the pope on his visit to the U.S. just last April and done everything in his power to help the wounded heal and protect the innocent."
Bartleson noted that making information public is not an easy subject.
"It's an agonizing thing," he said. "We need to support those who are innocent and help them remain innocent, and at the same time these things have to be addressed.
"It's difficult to do both those things and not hurt people."
Reach has instituted two changes in its program since the allegations came to light, Bartelson said. First, the organization has developed more extensive training about creating a safe environment for children. Second, because Reach volunteers stay with host families during their travels, the ministry will maintain a thorough information base on those families, so Reach doesn't have to rely on the home parish for contact information.
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