Wester at center of dealing with sex abuse scandal

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
ABQ Journal
May 10, 2015

Archbishop-elect of Santa Fe John C. Wester said he remains in contact with victims of clerical sexual abuse in San Francisco and considers some to be friends.

It is unlikely that Joseph Piscitelli counts himself among them.

In 2006, a California jury awarded Piscitelli, 59, a $600,000 civil award for sexual abuse he experienced as a teenager at the hands of a priest who served as a teacher and vice principal at a Catholic high school in Richmond, Calif.

The priest, the Rev. Stephen Whelan, later worked at a church with an attached grammar school owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Piscitelli said that, in 2003, shortly after he filed a lawsuit alleging the abuse, he met with Wester, then-auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, and urged the archdiocese to remove Whelan from duties at Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco.

“Here’s a guy that I know is a rapist, that I’m suing for sexual molestation, who is working with kids at a Catholic Church in San Francisco,” Piscitelli said of Whelan.

In 2003, Whelan was living in a rectory on the grounds of Saints Peter and Paul Salesian School, which serves children pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, Piscitelli said.

But Whelan remained in his post at Saints Peter and Paul for the next three years as Piscitelli’s lawsuit wound its way through California’s Second District Court, he said.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco removed Whelan a day after Piscitelli won his lawsuit in July 2006, he said.

Wester said last week that the Archdiocese of San Francisco relies on the findings of an independent review board, which investigates all claims of clerical sexual abuse, including Piscitelli’s, and found against his claim.

“I know Joe (Piscitelli) was not pleased because the board did not rule immediately the way he wanted,” Wester said.

“My recollection is that we were extremely thorough.”

Wester described the IRB as a “panel of experts,” such as lawyers, police officers and therapists. The IRB was “very sincere and eager to keep a safe environment and do what was right,” he said.

Wester said final authority to remove a priest rested with the archbishop, who relied on the judgment of the IRB.

“I can tell you that the diocese always followed their (the IRB’s) recommendation,” he said. “We were very scrupulous about that. That’s why you have the board.”

Wester will be installed June 4 as the 12th archbishop of Santa Fe. From 1998 to 2007, he served as auxiliary bishop and vicar of priests for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

In that role, Wester was at the center of dealing with the clerical sexual abuse crisis, which resulted in the Archdiocese of San Francisco settling 101 abuse claims and paying $68 million in settlements through 2011, according to news reports.

Wester said he met regularly with victims of sexual abuse.

“It was not always easy and often uneasy,” he said of the experience. “Very difficult, very sad.”

In 2003, the Archbishop of San Francisco was William Joseph Levada, who is now a cardinal and served as prefect of the congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Benedict XVI from 2005 to 2012.

Whelan was a member of the Salesian Society, a religious order that operates Saints Peter and Paul church and school, which is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The Salesian Society also owned Salesian High in Richmond, Calif., where Piscitelli said he was sexually abused by Whelan from 1969 to 1971.

Piscitelli filed his lawsuit against the Salesian Society and the Diocese of Oakland, where the high school was located.

The California Court of Appeals upheld the lower-court decision in August 2008.

The Salesians removed Whelan as a priest after the civil court ruling, and he no longer serves in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Wester said.


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