Area Bishop Apologizes for Role in Dealing with Priests Accused of Molesting

By Tom Kisken
Ventura County Star
January 23, 2013

[links to the documents - Anthony DeMarco, Jeff Anderson & Associates]

Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Curry offered a public apology Tuesday, a day after the release of church personnel records showing he played a role in protecting priests accused of molestation.

The records of 14 priests — expected to be followed eventually by a huge wave of records on more accused priests — include correspondence showing Curry, retired Archdiocese of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony and others worked to shield priests and the church.

Curry, then vicar of clergy, is now auxiliary bishop of a region in the archdiocese that includes Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

"I wish to acknowledge and apologize for those instances when I made decisions regarding the treatment and disposition of clergy accused of sexual abuse that in retrospect appear inadequate or mistaken," Curry said in a prepared statement.

"Like many others, I have come to a clearer understanding over the years of the causes and treatment of sexual abuse and I have fully implemented in my pastoral region the archdiocese's policies and procedures for reporting abuse, screening those who supervise children and abuse prevention training for adults and children."

About 3,000 pages of records were released this week as a result of a lawsuit seeking to show a cover-up pattern by the church. About 30,000 pages of records are expected to be released soon in a separate action, as part of the archdiocese's $660 million settlement in 2007 with alleged clergy abuse victims.

The records released Monday include a 1987 memo to Mahony in which Curry discussed ways to keep reports of acts, including "some sexual touching" by the Rev. Michael Wempe, as legally privileged and protected information. Wempe, who served at several Ventura County parishes, would ultimately admit to abusing 13 boys.

In a 1987 letter to Mahony, Curry discussed the concern that one of the numerous alleged sex abuse victims of the Monsignor Peter Garcia would see the priest if he began working again in the archdiocese.

"He (Curry) was directly involved in most of these cases that I have the files on, moving the priests out of state after the complaints came forward," said Anthony De Marco, the lawyer litigating the case against the archdiocese, adding Curry was also involved in reassigning priests to new parishes after they underwent therapy.

Notes from Mahony show his distress over the abuse and show he sent problem priests for treatment. But the documents also show lengthy delays in action. In a letter regarding Peter Garcia, the cardinal said Garcia should not return to the archdiocese for the foreseeable future.

"If Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the Archdiocese, we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors," Mahony wrote in a 1986 letter copied to Curry and others.

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg noted the records involve cases that are decades old and do not reflect the abuse reporting and prevention policies followed in parishes and schools for the past 11 years. The archdiocese has also apologized for failing to fully understand clergy sexual abuse, Tamberg said.

Mahony, in a statement released Monday, said that at first he was naive about the full and lasting impact the abuse by priests would have on the victims. He said personal visits with some 90 victims brought heart-wrenching awareness. He said he prays for the victims daily.

"Toward the end of our visits, I would offer the victims my personal apology — and took full responsibility — for my failure to protect fully the children and youth entrusted into my care," he said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors expressed interest Tuesday in the personnel records.

"The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office will review and evaluate all documents as they become available to us," said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.

The records deal with several accused priests who spent time in Ventura County, including Wempe; the Rev. Michael Buckley, who served briefly in Santa Paula; and the Rev. Fidencio Silva, who served for seven years in Oxnard.

Manny Vega of Oxnard, once an altar boy, is one of nearly 30 people who allege they were molested as boys by Silva. Vega said he has read the released records and didn't learn much new about Silva. But he thinks all the records released so far show church leaders knew exactly what they were doing.

"Basically, key guys called consciously calculated moves to protect the church," he said. "Callous. Cold ... There was never any intention to help the victims, other than to keep them quiet."

Monsignor Jon Majarucon of Santa Clara Parish in Oxnard said he didn't see any new news in media reports on the personnel records.

"The church tried to do what they could at the time. They didn't know," he said of how to best deal with sexual abuse. "Nobody knew. They tried to do the best they could with the information they had."

He said the Catholic Church has been pursued harder than other institutions facing allegations that involve sexual abuse. But he also expressed horror at the sexual abuse perpetrated on victims. Those victims, he said, are the priority.

"We have to continue to work with them and pray with them," he said. "I don't know if there will ever be healing. Terrible scars. Horrible scars."

This article contains material from The Associated Press.


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