San Bernardino: Priest at Aquinas Accused of Abuse

By David Olson
The Press-Enterprise
September 15, 2011

A retired priest who taught at Aquinas High School in San Bernardino for 24 years has been accused of sexually abusing at least five former students, officials with the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino and an attorney for some of the alleged victims said.

The diocese this week sent emails and letters to people who attended the diocesan-run school when the Rev. Robert J. Donat taught there between 1969 and 1993, said John Andrews, a diocesan spokesman. More than 1,600 alumni were notified of an allegation by one man and encouraged to contact the diocese or police if they were abused, he said.

One of Donat's former students told the diocese that he had been abused in 1973.

At least five men have contacted a Newport Beach law firm that has handled previous priest-abuse cases, alleging that Donat abused them while they were Aquinas students, attorney Rebecca Rhoades said.

Rhoades declined to say whether the man who talked with the diocese is one of those five, to protect the alleged victims' privacy.

Rhoades said there may be many more victims. Most of the five men gave the law firm names of others who they said were or may have been abused by Donat, she said.

"He was at this high school for a long time," Rhoades said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Statute of limitations issues could prevent criminal charges from being filed against Donat, Rhoades said.

She also represents the parents of a 12-year-old boy molested by a former Ontario priest, the Rev. Alejandro Jose Castillo. He was sentenced on Aug. 31 to a year in jail for abusing the boy in 2008.

The boy's brother said he was abused by Castillo when he was 16, but no charges were brought because the one-year statute of limitations had expired. Ontario police have interviewed three other men who also said that Castillo abused them.

Andrews said only one man told the diocese of alleged abuse by Donat.

After leaving Aquinas, Donat was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Montclair until 2006, Andrews said. Statements on the allegations against Donat were read to parishioners at all Masses there last weekend, he said.

"The sexual abuse of children and young people is reprehensible and sinful in the eyes of our faith," Andrews said. "When we're confronted with a new allegation like this we are deeply saddened."

Donat was stripped of all priestly duties in the diocese more than a month ago, when a special diocesan review panel on sexual abuse comprised primarily of lay people deemed the accusations against him credible, Andrews said.

Donat, who has lived in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for the past five years, could not be reached for comment.

Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese, said Donat sometimes ministered at two Los Angeles area parishes and a hospital over the past five years. Letters announcing the abuse allegations will be read at the hospital and parishes in coming days, he said.

The Diocese of San Bernardino also notified the Diocese of San Diego, where Donat served from 1966 until 1969, Andrews said. San Diego church officials were unavailable for comment.

Second-hand information about the alleged 1973 abuse was provided to the diocese in December, Andrews said. The diocese contacted the alleged victim and, later, the San Bernardino police. The alleged abuse occurred when the student and Donat were out of state, he said.

Andrews declined to provide details about the accusations, including why the two were out of state, to protect the alleged victim's anonymity.

Rhoades said the alleged victims of Donat that she and others at her law firm have talked with told similar stories. Donat praised them as students, gained their trust, went out with them socially without making sexual advances and then later either had or attempted to have genital contact with them.

Anthony De Marco, an attorney who represents a man who claimed Castillo abused him, said he is not surprised by the allegations against Donat.

"The amount of guilt and shame these folks suffered from after this occurred keeps them silent," he said. "I'm firmly convinced that there are an untold number of other victims in Riverside County, San Bernardino County, Southern California and elsewhere who have been abused and have yet to come forward."


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