Priest Abused a Boy a Month in Santa Barbara Boys Choir. with 150 Victims, He Serves Time for One. Now Living in Santa Cruz

By Kay Ebeling
City of Angels
February 5, 2010

CALIFORNIA -- "Not a month went by that Defendant did not molest members of the Santa Barbara Boys Choir," reads the Probation Report. The MO of Fr. Robert Van Handel in Law enforcement language: "Defendant first started giving Victim what he viewed as a 'regular' back rub so he could fall asleep easier. However, the defendant then started touching his stomach, thighs, legs, and eventually worked up to the point of" [SEX ASSAULT].

"Defendant would then take Victim out places like Taco Bell which made Victim feel good as he did not have a dad."

Re cooperation of the Franciscans: "It should be noted that the Catholic Church has done nothing to assist this department in this investigation," writes the arresting officer.

(Remember these acts we write about here are those of just 1 of 6000 pedophile priests counted so far in the U.S. City of Angels continues to read through the Probation Report of Father Robert Van Handel from 1994 and as we read, we share what we find with the world by blogging here.)

Victim: "The molestations happened so often it was like taking a shower or putting on my shoes. It actually got to the point where it seemed like the normal type of thing to do."

Victim "Didn't feel anything wrong was going on in that he completely trusted the defendant," considering on other occasions Defendant gave victim Communion at Mass, and when they were camping or during small gatherings.

Page 12 of the Probation Report continues: "The defendant kept a sleeping bag for Victim and the defendant would always sleep in his own room apart from him." (Likely because the priest would then go off to masturbate, considering the rest of the testimony-ke)

Regarding the victim in the case that goes RVH locked up in 1994:

"Defendant could not recall when he actually met the victim," Father never present, mother working two jobs.

"The victim appeared to him to be a very needy boy, which he admits made him 'particularly attractive.'"

RVH Denied molesting this particular boy.

"It should be noted that the Catholic Church has done nothing to assist this department in this investigation, and I feel several of Van Handel's supporters are in denial or don't understand how many lives Van Handel destroyed." Arresting officer

After hearing of another choir director being charged with child molestation, his MO challenged to back rubs, "But the backrubs were stimulating to defendant," reads Probation Report of Robert Van Handel, Franciscan ex-con friar from Santa Barbara, now living in Santa Cruz. "After the massages, he would leave the victim, go to his room, and masturbate to memories of what he had just done."

After his arrest he said to police: "I felt at the time that if I were not touching his genitals, I wasn't abusing him." Van Handel also told police "he never considered what he was doing to all of his victims as harming."

Addendum to the Probation Report:

RE: Defendant Employment

Occupation/Job Skills: Catholic priest

Present employer: Franciscans

Date: 1975 to present.

Monthly Income: $75/mo.

Monthly Expenses: -0-

"It appears that all therapy costs are being paid by the Catholic Church."'


(In the Probation Report is a letter from the therapist of another victim of RVH, whose assaults did not fall within the time frame of Statutes to file criminal charges. From therapist letter:)

PATIENT arrived enraged for his therapy session one day having just seen Van Handel on TV apologizing to his victim (a different victim).

He screamed. "What about apologizing to me?

Van Handel took countless nude photos of PATIENT as well as acting out the usual Father Robert sexual abuse. PATIENT agonized that RVH may have traded or sold the pictures. PATIENT continues to have nightmares about Van Handel.

SOME OF THE CONFUSION that victims live with as adults:

"In his first session with me, PATIENT, who is gay, speculated in a short and undefended moment that if the abuse had not happened, perhaps he would have a wife and family now. PATIENT quickly recovered his composure and strongly stated his beliefs in the genetics of homosexuality."

(SIDE TRIP HERE: How many other victims like me are plagued by this kind of question. I honestly wonder sometimes if I'm really gay, but Fr. Horne put such a huge compulsion in me back in 1953 that I pursued men all my life. I just wonder what I would have been without this experience at age five skewing my sex life.)

(Not sure if I'm going to leave that graph above in or not... did leave it in but cut two sentences...)

The PATIENT was:

"Shaken, non-trusting and terrified."

"Has had difficulty staying clean and sober"

Having unprotected sex with female drug users.

Unable to finish a course at SBCC that would have gotten him his GED

Robert Van Handel "could easily have abused 150 boys"

(THERAPIST treated two other victims of Robert Van Handel, who lost interest in boys after age 12.)

"Both PATIENT and PATIENT weep at the memory of his refusal to speak to them, which was his way of rejecting them when they were thirteen or fourteen. . . too old for his pedophile tastes.

"If Van Handel started his abuse career at age of twenty, continuing until forty-five, acting out on only ten boys per year, he could easily have abused 150 boys."

Therapist in Probation Report: Defendant "now acknowledges that what he did to them was certainly wrong and has impacted their lives greatly."


(NOTE: The Santa Barbara Boys Choir was CREATED FOR Robert Van Handel in the early 1960s because he was this out of place confused goal-less uninspired Franciscan.

THEY GAVE HIM A BOYS' CHOIR for ages eight to twelve only

Then THE FRANCISCANS GAVE PEDOPHILE ROBERT VAN HANDEL total autonomous control of the Santa Barbara Boys Choir.

The Pedophile Priest was allowed to do whatever he wanted with whatever boys in the eight to twelve age range he could SNARE.

And Robert Van Handel could easily have abused 150 boys." Per Annette Goodheart, Ph.D. Psychologist in Santa Barbara.


RE THE VICTIM whose assaults got Van Handel prosecuted:

Victim started drinking alcohol at age twelve, smoking weed at thirteen. (around time molestations slowed down then stopped)

"He never went to visit the defendant while under the influence"

(Might be one thing that drove victim to be under the influence)

VICTIM: "I guess when I popped in my my drugs and alcohol, it would make me think of it as being something else."


Started going to therapy in 1994

Social life nonexistent

Trust level extremely low

Destroys relationships and they become "prior relationships"


As to RVH's attempts to recover from being a pedophile: The MSW writes, Defendant "has spent approximately 21 months in treatment programs as a resident patient of St. Luke's Institute in Maryland and then the Pacific Treatment Associates in Santa Cruz, California where he takes part in behavioral and group therapy for child sex offenders.


Robert Gutierrez, Probation Officer

"Since 1975, it would seem safe to speculate that not a year, or for that matter a month, went by that defendant did not involve himself in some form of sexual gratification by molesting members of the Santa Barbara Boy's Choir."

Van Handel even says in his sexual autobiography

"Early in the choir's history, I began involving parents in planning, fund raising, etc., but it was clearly my choir. (As reported in story with pages scanned at City of Angels January 26, 2010.)

"It was clearly my choir, and the fulfillment of one of my fondest dreams.

"Now I understand that it was also a constant supply of attractive little boys."


From Probation Officer:

"It is very clear the defendant desecrated his position of trust as not only the choir director, but as a priest and Rector of St. Anthony's Seminary, in order to fulfill his predatory desires."

"Defendant's victimization of children has reportedly halted for five years.


"It seems defendant was ordered by his provincial to enter a psychiatric program in Maryland that has been specifically established by the Catholic Church for priests exhibiting behavior such as the defendant's.

"It is to his credit that he successfully completed the program.

"It took an arrest warrant and police officers to place him into custody to appear before the Court and admit his crimes."


Other than victim who was within time limits of the Statutes, Van Handel "has also literally devastated numerous other children and their families, for which he will not have to face any charges."

"In essence, one could basically state he 'got away with it.'"

More from Probation Officer:

Eight years for a single Count of 288(a)PC is not only justified, but could arguably be viewed as lenient and a stroke of luck for the defendant.

A stroke of luck, i.e., another victims' drug addiction, kept Defendant from Facing More Charges:

"It seems that had the victim not completely fallen to his drug addiction and been subsequently institutionalized, the defendant would most likely have continued molesting him through at least the latter part of 1989.

Had this occurred, defendant would clearly be in violation of the then-newly instated 188.5Penal Code Section, CONTINUOUS SEXUAL ABUSE OF A CHILD, which carries a maximum term of sixteen years.

(Probation Officer recommended the eight year sentence and says we "hope" that upon Van Handel's release:)

"The Catholic Church will not alienate itself from the defendant and will continue to provide him with the same therapy and support that it so vigorously pursued prior to his arrest and conviction."

Signed Ruben G. Gutierrez,

Deputy Probation Officer III

(Santa Barbara County)



LETTER SUBMITTED By ONE OF THE VICTIMS whose assaults were not within the SOL for criminal prosecution:

Says his mother was a single mom, working long hours, and "Decided the best thing to do was send me to Fr. Robert's house where there would be someone to watch after me."

He went to Van Handel's home from about age 9 to 14.

"During the nights at his house there was a repetitive course of action that took place at bed time. Every night Fr. Robert would give me a back rub that would lead into a stomach massage. After a while it would end up as a massage of my stomach, inner thighs, and genitals.

"Unless someone else was there this would take place every night which was spent at his house.

"If someone else was present at the time, there would be a simple back rub, if anything at all."

This victim asks the Court to order the maximum sentence possible, as Robert Van Handel "has violated the trust of many others besides myself and that trust is something every person needs to survive. Someone should not be able to do the things he did without being punished to the extreme."



On 3-22-94 I arrested Robert Van Handel for 288 (A) PC, Child Molest, after a lengthy and thorough investigation.

(RE: The family in the case that got Van Handel charged:)

"They felt Van Handel was the closest thing to God and trusted the church and priesthood more than anything else, including a police officer.

"Used his position of trust to fulfill his horrible pedophile sexual desires."

VICTIM in the criminal case is not the only victim of Father Robert Van Handel. Victims were molested by Van Handel in the same manner. With some he also took nude photographs.

"During my investigation I spoke to several other victims of Van Handel and their families. These victims had been molested by Van Handel in the same manner. Some of the victims had been photographed in the nude with oil rubbed on their bodies by Van Handel. One victim's mother is currently in possession of nude photographs of her son taken by Father Robert Van Handel.

"Unfortunately in all of these cases, the crimes committed by Van Handel fell outside of the statute of limitations, and many of the victims are now adults.

"In interviewing the victims and their families, I learned that in each case, Van Handel used his position as a Catholic priest to gain the trust of the victims and their families.

"He also used his position to keep his victims silent and maintain control over them.

"In all of these cases Van Handel started molesting the victims at approximately eight years old and continued to molest them until they reached the age of puberty."

The impact devastated the victims.

"When I arrested Van Handel, I served a search warrant in his room at the St. Francis Retreat in San Juan Bautista, California.

"I recovered several pieces of evidence which included various correspondence letters written by Van Handel, a diary, (January 1993 to March 1994) written by Van Handel, and an autobiography written by Van Handel.

"It should be noted that the Catholic Church has done nothing to assist this department in this investigation, and I feel several of Van Handel's supporters are in denial or don't understand how many lives Van Handel destroyed."

(Arresting officer Re all the letters of support for the serial felon priest:)

"If a police officer used his position of trust to manipulate and molest children, I would ask that he receive a maximum sentence. In Van Handel's case, he did not use a badge to lure his victims, but a white collar instead.

"The permanent damage Van Handel has perpetrated on society is irreversible."


Counted so far.

From MSW letter in Probation Report:

Mr. Van Handel is a 5'9" tall Caucasian male weighing 156 pounds with brown eyes, balding with brown hair, is a Franciscan priest whose meek demeanor, hunched stance, and soft-spoken voice reflect his self-reports of feelings of humiliation, guilt, and inadequacy."

Robert Van Handel served 8 years, 4 in prison 4 on Parole, he's been in Santa Cruz since 2002 or so...


Coming up next in the Van Handel series, the Medical Exam Connection passed down through generations, or

Father Van Handel Plays Doctor.


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