Catholic priest accused of sexual misconduct served at multiple Utah churches

By Cristina Flores
August 27, 2018

[with video]

Father David R. Gaeta, the pastor of St. Peter's Catholic Church in American Fork who is accused of sexual misconduct with children, served at several Utah Catholic parishes since the early 1980s.

The recent accusations, which were reported to the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake last week, involve Gaeta's time at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden, where he served as a new priest in the early 80s.

Gaeta served in Ogden after he was ordained. He then served at the following parishes in Utah:

  • St. Ambrose, Salt Lake (1982)
  • Hill Air Force Base, Temporary Chaplain
  • St. Pius X Parish, Moab (1983)
  • St. Vincent de Paul, Holladay
  • St. Thomas Aquinas, Hyde Park (1984)
  • Served out of state from 1984 to 2017
  • St. Florence Mission (2017)
  • St. Peter, American Fork (2018)

An article in the Intermountain Catholic reported that between 1984 and 2017, Gaeta was out of state serving the church in the military and at hospitals in his home state of Massachusetts. He also tended to his ailing mother, who passed away.

He was in American Fork for three weeks when the recent allegations surfaced.

Jean Hill, who spoke on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said she did not know why Gaeta was moved to so many different parishes over the years, as she did not have access to details of his history.

Hill said the accusations are under review by The Diocesan Safe Environment Independent Review Board.

The board, under the Diocese's Safe Environment Program, which was established in 1990, will review the allegations and determine what happens next.

Under their policy, any abuse of a minor by a priest or any other worker or volunteer on Church property, should be reported to DCFS or police immediately.

If the victim is over 18 at the time the allegations are made, the report should go to the Diocese, according to the policy. The policy says nothing about going to police in the case of adult victims.

In the case of Father Gaeta, Hill said the review board reported to DCFS.

Ashley Sumner with the Utah Department of Human Services, which oversees DCFS, said the agency can only investigate if the alleged victims are minors.

Any case involving adults, at the time when the report is made, is not within DCFS jurisdiction.

"We would recommend that they contact law enforcement," said Sumner.

The Catholic Diocese has not called police.

Hill said the review board, which includes lay people, clergy and a police officer, will investigate the merits of the allegations and conduct interviews before deciding whether police will be called.

The board, according to written policy, will do interviews and investigate. The policy says the church will remove a priest if allegations are substantiated, but the policy says nothing about contacting police in the case of adult victims.

Ogden Police Captain Dannielle Croyal said nobody has recently reported the allegations to her department.

Gaeta is currently on administrative leave.

Hill said he is in a private residence that is not church property.

"He has been removed from public ministry until we get through the investigative process," she said.

Craig Vernon, an Idaho attorney who recently represented a sex abuse victim in Montana and won them a $20 million settlement against the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, said the church should report all complaints of abuse to police.

"It's not their role to say if this crime should be prosecuted or not. That's for the police and judicial system to hash out," he said.

Whether a reported victim is a child or adult, the matter should go to police, because children never report serious crimes, Vernon said.

Vernon said Catholic Diocese all over the country have different policies and procedures in response to sex abuse and are not consistent.

"The policies and procedures are refined,they are made much better following lawsuits," he said.

In Utah, a recently-passed law allows victims of child sex abuse to sue in civil court, even years after the statute of limitations has expired.

But the law only allows victims to sue individuals — not entities like the Catholic Church.

Vernon called that a "tragedy."

"If you get molested and sexually abused by a millionaire, the law helps. If you get molested and sexually abused by a Catholic priest, it probably helps very little," he said.


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