Ex-Priest Claims Molestation by Childhood Priest

By Gillian Flaccus
San Jose Mercury News
April 20, 2009

ORANGE, Calif.—A former Roman Catholic priest filed a lawsuit Monday claiming that as a teenager in Southern California he was abused by a priest who was his mentor.

Ben Rodriguez, who left the priesthood in 2006, claims that Gordon J. Pillon molested him multiple times from 1978 to 1981 at Pillon's apartment in the rectory of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra.

The Orange County Superior Court filing names the Diocese of Orange and the parish. Pillon is temporarily listed as a "John Doe" defendant for procedural reasons and his name will be formally attached later, said Rodriguez's attorney, Joseph George, who appeared at a press conference with his client to announce the legal action.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for future medical and therapy expenses, damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, lost wages and earning capacity and punitive damages.

Ryan Lilyengren, spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, said in an e-mail that the diocese had not been served with the lawsuit yet and could not comment.

Rodriguez alleges Pillon gave him muscle relaxants and sleeping pills during the abuse. Rodriguez's parents were divorcing and Pillon convinced the teen to leave home, cut off contact with his family and join the seminary at age 18, according to the complaint.

Rodriguez said he moved into a series of foster homes arranged by Pillon at the priest's urging and saw Pillon as a father figure and spiritual mentor, despite the abuse.

Rodriguez said Pillon would play pornographic movies and sexually molest him during overnights at Pillon's apartment.

"He gave me drugs and alcohol and I remained silent about it my entire life until recently," Rodriguez said. "I'm encouraged and very relieved to finally come out and say I am a victim of abuse."

Pillon was defrocked in 2006 and is now a professor at the University of Northern Virginia's campus in Prague, in the Czech Republic, according to George.

An e-mail to a Gordon Pillon at the Prague campus was not immediately returned Monday. David Lee, chancellor of the school's American campus, said he could not reach anyone at the Prague campus for comment because it was night.

Rodriguez, now 45, graduated from a seminary in 1991 and was appointed as a priest in the Diocese of Peoria in Illinois. Pillon, who was already in central Illinois working at a Catholic university, began serving in the Peoria diocese shortly thereafter, George said.

Rodriguez said he was sent for residential psychological treatment at St. John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania and forced out of the Illinois diocese in 2006 after telling his superiors about the abuse.

He is no longer a priest and works as a substitute teacher in Riverside County, Calif.

Messages left at the Diocese of Peoria on Monday after business hours were not immediately returned.

In 2006, however, a spokeswoman said that Bishop Daniel Jenky asked Pillon to step down after allegations surfaced that Pillon molested a minor 25 years earlier in Orange County.

In addition to serving in Orange County and in six parishes in central Illinois, Pillon also served at the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., and was in ministry at Bradley University in Peoria.


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