Abuse Victims Want Convicted Priest Relieved of Duties

10 News
October 25, 2010

SAN DIEGO -- A former San Diego priest convicted of molesting two boys in San Bernardino is still with the Catholic Church, but is now in Ensenada, Mexico.

Days after the Diocese of San Diego released more than 10,000 pages of private documents relating to priest sexual abuse, 10News uncovered additional details about one of the priests involved.

Father Gustavo Benson served at Our Lady of Sacred Heart in San Diego in 1971. In 1975, he was at St. John Church in Encinitas, and in 1977 at Mary Star of the Sea in Oceanside. He worked in several different parishes in California until he was charged with molesting two boys in San Bernardino. Benson entered a plea of no contest and agreed to counseling. 10News learned he was then sent to the Diocese of Tijuana, where he has been serving for more than a decade.

A woman answering the phone at San Pablo Apostol in Ensenada confirmed Benson delivered Sunday's sermon and then left on a 15-20 day vacation.

"That's outrageous," said sex abuse attorney Irwin Zalkin, reacting to the fact that a convicted priest was still with the church. "But that was part of the practice that has existed within the church as a whole, certainly within the Diocese of San Diego, and I have no doubt is a problem in Latin America and Mexico."

Zalkin said there is no provision in the 2007 settlement with the Catholic Church that says "Thou shall not hire pedophile priests, but one would hope that after what we've been through for the past almost decade, with the exposure of these documents, with the litigation, with the payment of almost $200 million, they'd get the right idea and start vetting who they're hiring."

Jim Whitham claims he was a victim of Benson's when he was just a young boy. Whitham, now in his 50's, cried as he spoke about the abuse.

"I've been battling this for a long time," he said, speaking to reporters outside St. Joseph Cathedral. "My goal here today is to speak out and have other kids who've been abused to speak out and not be afraid."

Whitham and three other alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests rallied outside the church demanding the Diocese of San Diego release the remaining 2,000 pages of private documents pertaining to priests accused of molesting children.

"Our imaginations can only wonder what's in those files," said another victim, Paul Livingston.

The men are members of the organization known as Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. The group wants all documents related to the 2007 global settlement with the church released. Its members also want Benson relieved of his duties with the Catholic Church.

A statement released by the Diocese of San Diego said: "The Diocese of san Diego has voluntarily complied with all aspects of the global settlement reached in 2007. It is the on-going hope of the Diocese that all victims will continue on the path toward healing and reconciliation."

A total of 45 Catholic priests within the San Diego Diocese have been accused of abuse.

Benson is believed to be the only one convicted and still serving the Catholic Church.

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