Priest active in Bay Area faced previously undisclosed sex abuse charge

By John Woolfolk
Bay Area News Group viaMercury News
September 16, 2018

Patrick J. McGrath, Bishop of San Jose

In what many consider a long-overdue confessional, Catholic church leaders from San Jose to San Diego have taken the extraordinary step of promising to bare some of their darkest secrets by revealing previously undisclosed names of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse.

And names now being disclosed reveal a disturbing fact — at least one of those priests remains active. An itinerant Roman Catholic priest who holds Bay Area retreats is among eight clergymen the Diocese of San Diego just identified as having been the subject of previously undisclosed accusations of sexual abuse.

The Rev. J. Patrick Foley, who held retreats in Soquel and Danville this year costing participants more than $200 a person, faced a church tribunal after a couple in the Sacramento area accused him in 2010 of sexually molesting their boys, said San Diego diocese spokesman Kevin C. Eckery. The tribunal was inconclusive, he said, and although church officials also alerted local police, nothing ever came of it. But the diocese in 2015 stripped him of his priestly faculties.

“When he couldn’t be judged guilty in trial, it just complicated things with how to deal with him,” Eckery said.

The San Diego diocese’s unusual disclosure last week shows the far-reaching impact as bishops around the country respond to pressure for a fuller accounting of the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic church worldwide.

The Diocese of San Jose announced Thursday that it will take similar steps to San Diego, holding “listening sessions” with parishioners to hear accusations and concerns, inviting an independent investigation of how church leaders handled misconduct claims and naming clergy credibly accused of sex abuse.

Those efforts follow an August grand jury report in Pennsylvania that revealed widespread clergy sex abuse dating back decades and efforts by Roman Catholic dioceses in that state to cover it up. The Archdiocese of San Francisco and Diocese of Oakland said Friday they have not made plans yet for a response like those in San Jose and San Diego.

Victim advocates say that while they appreciate greater disclosure from the dioceses, they don’t trust them and want states to launch Pennsylvania-style investigations.

Since the Pennsylvania report, attorneys general in New York, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico have said they will investigate Catholic priest sex abuse. The California attorney general’s office would not say Friday whether it will take such a step.

Foley, who maintains a website that describes himself as an “itinerant papist preacher” based in Sacramento, did not respond to phone and email requests for comment about the allegations reported by the San Diego diocese.

Sister Carole Riley at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whom Foley listed as a reference, said “I have no knowledge of the events of which Fr. Foley was accused.”

“I experience Fr. Foley as a prayerful man,” Riley said by email, “highly skilled in writing, preaching and teaching.”

Foley’s relationship with the San Diego diocese was distant at the time of the sex abuse accusation. He had worked in the diocese at the University of San Diego but left in the early 1990s because he didn’t want to return to parish work, Eckery said. Because he was under the jurisdiction of San Diego’s bishop, he remained officially tied to that diocese even after he left, Eckery said.

Eckery said Foley was accused in Sacramento of molesting two children of a couple who had been his friends, but their boys did not testify at the church tribunal. The diocese did not identify the couple or their children.

“It wasn’t just a closed church thing,” Eckery said. “Both dioceses cooperated with police to make sure the family got justice.”

Foley was suspended from ministry in July 2010 while the allegations were pending, but with the tribunal inconclusive, his faculties were restored in January 2012. That year, the San Diego diocese approved Foley to lead a retreat in the nearby Diocese of Orange. The events typically draw adult parishioners for discussion and prayer.

“We received a letter of good standing from Monsignor Steven Callahan, the Vicar General of the Diocese of San Diego, for Father J. Patrick Foley on February 2, 2012,” said Hank Evers, spokesman for the Orange diocese. “Father Foley held a retreat at St. Columban Parish April 23-25, 2012.”

In August 2015, the San Diego diocese, under a new bishop, again stripped Foley of his faculties as a priest, Eckery said. But that hasn’t stopped him from leading retreats elsewhere.

Among Foley’s more recent retreats was a July 27-29 event at Danville’s San Damiano Retreat, which is operated by Franciscan friars. Janet Gardner, project manager at San Damiano, said “he does a couple a year here” that are for adults and that she is “not aware of any complaints” about him from participants.

“We wouldn’t have him back if we had those concerns,” Gardner said.

Foley also did a January 26-28 event at the St. Clare’s Retreat Center in Soquel run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows. Sister Mary Vincent, the retreat director, said they too have had no complaints and plan to have him back in July.

“We have good retreat masters,” she said.

But Joelle Casteix, an Orange County abuse survivor and victim advocate who said she has been in contact with one of Foley’s alleged Sacramento victims, said others have canceled events with him, including one in January this year in Huntington Beach. An email confirming the cancellation did not indicate a reason, and the woman who sent it did not respond to questions.

“Why is the Diocese of San Diego just now making his name public if they knew of credible allegations of sexual abuse?” Casteix asked on her blog. “Why did they let him roam freely and unsupervised with children and young people?”

Robert Allard, a San Jose lawyer who has represented sex abuse victims, said he’s not concerned about dioceses going too far in outing priests subjected to unproven allegations.

“If one pedophile is outed while some others may be inconvenienced by false allegations, on balance, it’s worth the effort,” Allard said. “On a daily basis I witness the great and lifetime damage caused by even one act of molestation upon a child.”



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