|Parishioners Demand Answers after Menlo Park Pastor Suspended
By Diana Samuels
June 2, 2011
The pastor of a Menlo Park church was placed on leave after religious officials learned last week that he struggles with sexual addiction and followed a teenage boy into a store dressing room, according to the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
About 200 angry parishioners gathered Wednesday night at St. Raymond Catholic Church on Santa Cruz Avenue to demand answers about the circumstances of Father William Myers' suspension and express concern for their children.
"He was alone with my daughter in his office!" one man shouted during a tense hour-and-a-half meeting with archdiocese officials.
There have been no reports that Myers, who was placed on administrative leave Friday, did anything inappropriate with children at the church and its school, Bishop William Justice told the crowd.
The archdiocese has suspended Myers for potentially committing a "boundary violation" with a 17-year-old boy on April 19, officials said. While at a Ross Dress For Less store in San Francisco, Myers tried to strike up a conversation with the boy, who he did not know, and followed him into a dressing room stall, Justice told parishioners. The boy's father immediately intervened and there was no physical contact between Myers and the boy, officials said.
The boy's father became "upset about something that was done, or he thought was going to happen. ... He was upset enough that the store called the police," said George Wesolek, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
Wesolek said he did not know whether the incident was sexual in nature.
"When we talk in our guidelines about appropriate boundaries, we're not talking necessarily about something sexual all the time," he said. "It could be just an inappropriate situation." For example, it would be a violation to meet with a minor behind a closed door -- something that multiple parents at Wednesday's meeting claimed Myers did.
San Francisco police Sgt. Michael Andraychak confirmed that officers were called to the Ross store on the 2300 block of 16th Street at about 1:30 p.m. on April 19. But because the incident involved a minor, Andraychak declined to give further details. No one was arrested, he said.
"At the initial conclusion, reporting officers felt there was no violation of law, but it has been forwarded to investigators," Andraychak said.
A tipster called the archdiocese on May 26 to tell officials about the incident, Wesolek said. Myers, who has worked at St. Raymond since 2007, was placed on leave the following day.
"This is one of those things where, if there is some sort of a suspicion, we have to take it very seriously," Wesolek said. "It may turn out that nothing happened."
In addition, Justice said that when he confronted Myers about the incident on Friday, Myers disclosed that he is seeking treatment for sexual addiction.
Wesolek said he did not know when Myers began seeking treatment, or whether there is any connection between the addiction and the incident at Ross.
The case was referred to the archdiocese's Independent Review Board, a panel that investigates sexual abuse incidents. The board will give a recommendation to the archbishop, who will decide whether to discipline Myers, Wesolek said.
'Red flags' ignored
Many parishioners at Wednesday's meeting criticized the church for not catching "red flags" before assigning Myers to St. Raymond. He took time off in the mid-90s from the Diocese of Stockton to seek therapy because he was struggling with his sexual identity, Justice said. No problems were reported in the 11 years Myers worked for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, he added.
Parishioners, however, didn't appear convinced.
"The Catholic Church has a history of moving priests with problems to unknowing parishes," one man said. "I think that's what happened here."
Myers could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The phone number listed for the parish's rectory was disconnected and Justice said he was no longer there.
After the meeting, Mai-Nhung Le, of Palo Alto, described Myers as a "good man," saying his suspension is "hard for all of us."
"We want (our children) to learn to have heart and soul and be compassionate, and we look up to our priests and our religious leaders to do that," Le said.
Parishioner Christine Galvez, of Menlo Park, said the congregation is feeling "a lot of hurt, a lot of pain, a lot of disappointment, disillusionment."
Myers was "very much a huggy-kissy person," Galvez said, and sometimes made her feel uncomfortable with his embraces.
The archdiocese says "any allegations of sexual abuse" involving Myers should be directed to police and the archdiocese victim assistance coordinator, Barbara Elordi, at 415-614-5506 or email@example.com.
"We have no idea if there are other allegations," Wesolek said.
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