|Documents Detail Abuse Probes of Area Priests
By Nicole C. Brambila
The Desert Sun
October 27, 2010
A trove of newly released documents describe abuse or alleged abuse by 10 Catholic priests assigned to parishes in the Coachella Valley from the 1940s through the early 1990s.
The papers document a now-familiar pattern in which church officials transferred troubled priests to faraway parishes to avoid "scandal," only to have the abuses repeated at their new churches.
Nearly 10,000 pages from the personnel files of 48 priests who were either accused or convicted of sexual abuse or were named in a civil lawsuit were put online Sunday after a judge ruled the previously sealed documents could be released.
The release was part of a civil lawsuit involving 144 abuse victims who settled with the Diocese of San Diego for $198.1 million in 2007. More than $15 million of the settlement was paid by the San Bernardino Diocese, which was created in 1978 and includes the Coachella Valley.
Among those whose files were released was Rev. Paedar Brennan, who fathered a child while pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in La Quinta in the late 1980s.
Brennan resigned his La Quinta post in 1988 and was instructed by Rev. Phillip F. Straling, then the San Bernardino bishop, to have no contact with the mother or the child, though Brennan agreed to pay child support.
But only a few years later, while serving as pastor of a church in Victorville, Brennan became involved with a parishioner and fathered another child, according to the files. He sought to be removed from the priesthood in 1995 so he could marry.
In another case, the Rev. Luis de Francisco was accused in 1962 of abusing the children of migrant workers at three churches in the Coachella Valley before he was arrested and returned to his home country, Colombia.
But even after his arrest, the then-bishop of the San Diego Diocese, Rev. Charles F. Buddy, praised de Francisco for "being a zealous worker and devoted to the poor."
"On the other hand, the 'incidents' at Indio were more serious than first presented to me; especially in as much as the police have made a record of them. You know how word gets around, so that you be certain that the police here will be on your trail," Buddy wrote the priest in a Dec. 21, 1962 letter.
Police investigated de Francisco for allegedly abusing children, but the diocese convinced authorities to drop the case if the priest would be allowed to return to his Colombian diocese and never return to the U.S.
No one filed a lawsuit against de Francisco and the church never revealed the complaints, according to attorney Anthony DeMarco, who represented the victims in the settlement of the abuse cases.
The priest returned to parish work in Colombia and died there about 20 years ago, according to The Associated Press.
The files also include letters and references to parishes where priests were accused of abuse at various points over six decades. Palm Springs priest James Creaton was accused of abuse at Our Lady of Solitude in the 1940s, as was Rev. Malachy McGinn in the 1990s.
Rev. James Thomas Booth, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Indio, also was cited for abuse in the 1940s.
Even after reaching the financial settlement three years ago, advocates pushed in court for the release of the church's personnel files, saying it was important for Catholics to see for themselves how abusive priests had been protected.
"Until we know what the church knew and when they knew it about these priests we can never be assured our kids are safe," said Joelle Casteix, Southern California director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
"We need to get to the truth."
John Andrews, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, said the files stand in contrast to the procedures in place today to protect children and the vulnerable.
"The files show that we have a very different way of dealing with this kind of conduct among priests than we did then," Andrews said.
Just this week, the San Bernardino Diocese was hit with a new priest abuse scandal when Jose Alejandro Castillo, known as "Father Alex" at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ontario, was arrested Monday for the alleged sex abuse of a 12-year-old boy.
Andrews said the diocese cooperates fully with police investigators.
SNAP organizers contend the San Bernardino Diocese and its far-flung rural parishes was long used by bishops of larger dioceses as a dumping ground for troubled priests.
Attorneys are still trying for the release of an additional 2,000 pages of priest personnel records.
"I think as we absorb this, it will shed a lot of light on these issues. It's amazingly rich," said Terry McKiernan, founder of the website Bishop Accountability.org.
"These documents are providing a window into the California experience that we haven't had before."
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