Ex-Cleric Says Priest Abused Him in LA Habra Church

By Ruby Gonzales
Whittier Daily News
April 21, 2009

LA HABRA - As a teen, Ben Rodriguez alleges he was abused at a local church by a priest he trusted. The same man convinced him to join the priesthood after high school.

Rodriguez is now suing the Diocese of Orange and his former mentor for the alleged abuse.

The lawsuit, filed Monday at Orange County Superior Court, doesn't name the priest who allegedly abused Rodriguez between 1978 and 1981. But the 45-year-old said that between 15 and 18 he was molested by Gordon Pillon, who was then assistant pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra.

"This man has ruined a lot of people's lives," Rodriguez said.

Pillon, who is no longer a priest, is listed as director of admissions and student services at the University of North Virginia campus in Prague, Czech Republic. The school's Web site also touts him as one of its most popular undergraduate instructors in history and speech.

Pillon didn't answer an e-mail from the paper.

The alleged molestations happened in Pillon's church apartment. On some occasions, Pillon allegedly gave Rodriguez muscle relaxants and sleeping pills.

When Rodriguez's parents were divorcing in 1980, he joined a youth group at the church. He was invited to spend time with Pillon at the priest's apartment and allegedly molested.

Pillon allegedly convinced Rodriguez to move out of the teen's home and live with other families in the parish. When Rodriguez turned 18, he joined the seminary.

He was ordained as a priest with the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill. on May 25, 1991.

Both were in the same diocese. In 2006, Rodriguez told church officials about the alleged abuse in La Habra when a young man accused Pillon of making sexual advances.

And before that, Rodriguez said he and other priests tried to do an intervention for Pillon who he claimed was abusing prescription painkillers.

In 2006, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria asked Pillon to step down from public ministry, not to wear clerical garb or the Roman collar and to stop using the title, Reverend or Father.

"Recent allegations of sexual misconduct of a minor were made against Pillon dating back nearly 25 years ago. During the time of the abuse mentioned ... Pillon was a priest incardinated in the Diocese of Orange, California," according to the May 2006 press release from the Peoria diocese.

"They supposedly investigated it. Pillon denied any wrongdoing," said Rodriguez's attorney, Joseph George.

He said Rodriguez was sent to a treatment center in Pennsylvania but, after that, wasn't welcomed back to Peoria. Rodriguez returned to California.

The former La Habra resident now lives in Riverside County. He is a substitute high school teacher.

As to why the suit was filed now, George said Rodriguez wanted to reach out to other victims to break the secrecy.

A woman who answered the phone at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church at 900 W. La Habra Blvd. said the pastor is out of the country. She referred media calls to Ryan Lilyengren, spokesman for the diocese.

In a statement, Lilyengren said the diocese of Orange hasn't been served with the complaint and was only made aware of it through media reports.

"If and when this case is appropriately filed, we intend to maintain the integrity of the judicial process and hope for an expedient resolution of this issue," Lilyengren said.

The suit claims the diocese and its officials were negligent; that they knew or reasonably should have known about the priest's propensities especially prior acts of unlawful sexual misconduct and yet retained or failed to supervise him.

The lawsuit also accuses the priest of sexual battery and assault.

It seeks no specific amount. But Rodriguez is asking for punitive damages and general damages for future medical, psychotherapy and related expenses, for physical pain, mental pain, suffering, emotional distress and for past and future lost wages.



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