Lawsuit alleges Catholic Church protected pedophile priest who ministered in Riverside County

By Joe Nelson
San Bernardino Sun
October 25, 2018

This police booking mug from the Los Angeles Police Department shows former Catholic priest Carlos Rene Rodriguez, 46, after he was arrested at his home in the City of Commerce on Wednesday Sept. 25, 2002. Rodriguez was charged with molesting a 12-year-old altar boy over a two-year period ending in 1987.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges two brothers were molested by a priest at a Riverside parish in the 1990s.

Among the defendants named in the lawsuit are defrocked priest Carlos Rene Rodriguez, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of San Bernardino.

The lawsuit also alleges that for roughly 20 years, the Catholic Church was well aware of Rodriguez’s propensity for molesting young boys. Rodriguez even admitted to a priest that he molested one boy during a camping trip at the Grand Canyon in 1987, when he was associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles, but the priest failed to report Rodriguez to police, said Anthony M. DeMarco, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

When church officials became aware that the boy’s family planned to report Rodriguez to police, they transferred Rodriguez to a treatment facility for abusive priests in Maryland, DeMarco said.

In 1988, Rodriguez returned to California following treatment and was assigned to the Office for Family Life in Santa Barbara, where he ministered to Spanish-speaking immigrants from farming communities in Santa Barbara County, as well as Spanish-speaking immigrant families in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, according to the lawsuit.

Although his contact with minors was restricted following his treatment in Maryland, Rodriguez continued to isolate himself with minors, taking them for rides in his car and repeatedly having minors visit and/or stay with him at St. Mary’s Seminary in Santa Barbara, the lawsuit alleges.

Abuse alleged in 1993

The plaintiffs allege that Rodriguez began molesting them at their home and at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Riverside in 1993, when they were 12 and 7 years old. They repressed the abuse and carried on with their lives, abusing alcohol and suffering other psychological disorders they claim they did not know at the time could be connected to the abuse they allegedly suffered, according to the lawsuit, which also alleges that Rodriguez ministered at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Riverside in the early 1990s.

In 2016, one of the plaintiffs — the older brother now in his 30s — saw a news segment on television that mentioned Rodriguez was ministering at another church in Los Angeles, prompting him and his brother to come forward.

“The (news) broadcast indicated Father Rodriguez had a long history of molesting minors which was known to Catholic church authorities, but that Father Rodriguez had been allowed to continue to minister by church authorities despite this history,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Seeing this guy still out there in the community, holding himself up as a man of God, prompted them to come forward,” DeMarco said of the two plaintiffs.

Pleaded guilty in 2004

Rodriguez pleaded guilty in February 2004 to molesting two teenage boys he met while ministering at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Paula in the 1990s. He was subsequently sentenced to eight years in prison and released from custody in 2008. Now 62, the former City of Commerce resident is living in Bakersfield.

DeMarco’s lawsuit was the third filed against Rodriguez and Catholic Church entities since 2003. He represented five plaintiffs in two other lawsuits, filed in 2003 and 2014, stemming from sex abuse allegations in Santa Paula. Both those cases settled for “millions of dollars,” DeMarco said in a telephone interview.

Rodriguez’s name did not appear on a list of 34 priests accused and/or convicted in the last 40 year of sexual abuse, which was posted on the Diocese of San Bernardino’s website earlier this month. That’s because the diocese had no record of Rodriguez having ever ministered at any of its parishes, which also includes those in Riverside County, diocesan spokesman John Andrews said.

No record of defrocked priest

“We have no record of a Father Carlos Rene Rodriguez ever having an assignment at any parish in our Diocese or having been given faculties to minister here in any way,” Andrews said in an email Thursday. “We can find no one by that name in our files. We also have no record of anyone coming forward to the Diocese to make an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a Father Carlos Rene Rodriguez.”

Other priests on the list, including Joseph Jablonski and Esteban Trujillo, also had ministered without faculties at San Bernardino County parishes, unbeknownst to the diocese at the time, Andrews said.

“So, yes, this does happen,” Andrews said in his email. “Since we have no record of (Father) Carlos Rodriguez in our files, I have no idea how he would have come here, or at who’s invitation. Typically, a priest in ministry is assigned to one parish, but if they are saying occasional Masses on weekends as a fill-in, they might have a couple parishes in the same area that they serve.”

Any priest who wants to minister in a diocese must seek permission and/or faculties from the diocese, even if it’s a one-time event, by filling out an “affidavit of suitability” that allows the diocese to check any record of misconduct in a previous diocese, Andrews said.

Name omission ‘scary’

DeMarco, however, sees the omission of Rodriguez’s name from the list as a problem.

“Think about how scary that is. It’s a total lack of diligence,” he said in a telephone interview.

As far back as the 1970s, when Rodriguez was in seminary to become a priest, seminary faculty and advisers noted Rodriguez’s “unhealthy interest and interaction with minors,” according to the lawsuit. Still, Rodriguez advanced and was eventually ordained, working at parishes across the state, from Patterson in Northern California to Riverside.

Allegations of sexual abuse or suspected inappropriate conduct appear to have trailed him everywhere he went, according to the lawsuit.

Even after his suspension in 1993 due to a potential criminal investigation into the allegations about molesting a boy at the Grand Canyon in 1987, Rodriguez continued ministering at other parishes in Southern California. A letter dated Nov. 4, 1993, from Father Jerry Herff of Vincentian Fathers and Brothers Province of the West, of which Rodriguez was a member, to Lois Marquez at the Office of the Vicar Clergy, illustrates the frustration church officials felt about Rodriguez’s conduct.

“I don’t think he’s malicious or deceptive. He just doesn’t get it,” Herrf said in his letter, referring to news that Rodriguez had been “helping out” on Sundays at a parish in the Diocese of Orange. “My letter approving his ‘leave’ explicitly states that his faculties are suspended, which means you cannot celebrate the sacraments publicly or privately.”

As to the alleged Grand Canyon allegations from 1987, the archdiocese said in its statement: “In June 1987, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was informed by the police of a report of misconduct with a minor involving Rodriguez while he was serving at St. Vincent Church in Los Angeles. He was removed from ministry, sent to treatment and the treatment center found him to be competent to return to limited ministry.”

Years following his incarceration and release, the archdiocese became aware in 2016 that Rodriguez had been presenting himself as “Father Carlos Ramirez” to minister at a church not affiliated to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

“The Archdiocese informed law enforcement of his activities and sent alerts to all parishes informing them that Rodriguez has no permission to act as a Roman Catholic priest in any capacity,” the archdiocese said in its statement.



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