Details Tell Story of Priest Abuse

By Colleen Cason
Ventura County Star
February 9, 2013

[Donald Roemer - Los Angeles archdiocese]

It is said God is in the details. Or is it the devil?

You can decide for yourself now that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has released 12,000 pages of personnel files of priests accused of molesting children.

I read one file cover to cover, that of former priest Donald Patrick Roemer. Known as Father Pat, he served at St. Paschal Baylon Church in Thousand Oaks during the early 1980s. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a parishioner at St. Paschal’s. I’ll say a bit about that later.

It’s all there in Roemer’s 903-page file: Church leaders covering up for and coddling a priest while ignoring his victims, moving him to another parish while he professed sexual attraction to young boys.

But there is something else none of us could imagine today — the rage some parishioners turned on his victims.

Father’s Pat’s case went down differently than many we’ve heard. He served two years for child molestation in Atascadero State Hospital. It took the Vatican 25 years after his conviction, but he was defrocked in 2006.

Roemer was convicted of molesting three young boys while serving at St. Paschal’s. He abused them in the confessional and in the teachers’ lounge at the parish grade school.

A parishioner told the pastor months before the molestations that sent Roemer to Atascadero that her son had been victimized by Father Pat. The pastor compared Roemer’s actions to “a splinter.” He said it had to be removed or it would get worse.

The clergyman apparently lacked ecclesiastical tweezers because Roemer never lost his access to parish children.

Roemer was caught when a 7-year-old victim told his parents and they called the police. An officer interviewed the boy that same night.

The next day, Roemer was called to the East Valley Sheriff’s Station, where he did something unexpected. He confessed.

“I keep fighting it and fighting it and fighting it,” he told the investigator, “and not knowing how to handle it anymore.”

His confession matches everything the boy claimed, based on a transcript of his recorded interrogation.

When the old Thousand Oaks News Chronicle reported his arrest, the case took an unchristian turn.

One letter writer called the boys’ accusation “character assassination by a nameless, faceless accuser.” Another wrote allegations from a 7-year-old are hardly grounds to tarnish the priest’s reputation. Another writer questioned if it was wrong to show a little affection to a child. Still others compared Father Pat to Jesus and called him “the sacrificial lamb.”

Then-District Attorney Michael Bradbury released Roemer’s confession to calm the firestorm. But as entries in the file show, the damage had been done to the victims.

During his time in Atascadero, Roemer sent upbeat letters to the late Cardinal Timothy Manning, of Los Angeles. “What good are mistakes if we don’t learn from them?” Roemer poses to Manning.

Manning replies to each missive, even offering to visit him. In fact, the file includes an itinerary from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo and visitation rules for the state hospital.

While this cheery correspondence goes on, Manning receives a note from one victim’s parents, pleading for a few hundred dollars to pay for their child’s counseling after the molestation. The archdiocese would later give Roemer $20,000 to cover his psychologist’s bill.

What the file shows best is that the churchmen were looking the wrong way. They defend not reporting pedophile priests to police because they did not understand the nature of pedophilia in the 1970s and 1980s, when these crimes occurred. They were led to believe it was curable.

Be that as it may, the emotional damage that molestation does to children was well known then. And if they didn’t believe the experts, perhaps a clue came from a mother of a victim who wrote about her child being so disturbed by Father Pat’s sexual abuse, he set his bed linens on fire. Yet the file contains no evidence any church leader apologized or assisted a single of Roemer’s victims.

This is not the Catholic church I see every Sunday. I look across the people at St. Paschal Baylon on an average Sunday, and I might spot a founder of the Conejo Valley’s biggest charity food pantry, a man who jeopardized his health to care for the homeless or the woman who dedicated herself to building understanding between Christians and Muslims in the days after 9/11.

On the Sunday our pastor had to read Archbishop Jose Gomez’s letter sanctioning Cardinal Roger Mahony and now-retired Bishop Thomas Curry for covering up sexual abuse, parishioners were rolling up their sleeves in the parish hall to give blood and pulling out their checkbooks to support the poorest parishes and schools in the archdiocese.

God is in the details, when we learn from them that we can be better and do better.


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