Lawsuit Alleges Predator Priest Sexually Abused Two in Riverside after Previous Suspension
By Christopher Damien
Palm Springs Desert Sun
November 1, 2018
|Carlos Rene Rodriguez|
Two brothers claim in a civil suit that Carlos Rene Rodriguez, a former Roman Catholic priest who spent time in prison from 2004 to 2008 for child sexual assault, abused them as children in the early 1990s, while he was ministering at churches in Riverside.
The lawsuit includes documents that show the church had already known Rodriguez had a past of sexual abuse. Church leaders had sent Rodriguez to a treatment center for troubled priests and stripped Rodriguez of his religious order. The lawsuit also accuses Rodriguez of violating church orders not to minister, due to his previous sexual abuse.
The lawsuit comes just three weeks after Bishop Gerald Barnes' Oct. 8 release of a list of credible child sexual abuse claims against priests who were part of the Diocese of San Bernardino. The detailed court filings allege that Rodriguez's pattern of horrific abuse extended into churches in Riverside County.
Anthony DeMarco, the lawyer representing the two plaintiffs identified only as John Does, questions why the Diocese of San Bernardino failed to see that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had documented evidence of Rodriguez's sexual abuse before he began ministering in Riverside.
"The failure to account for Father Rodriguez on the recently released list of priests publicized by the San Bernardino Diocese raised the serious question of whether the San Bernardino Diocese does enough to screen priests before they are entrusted with the care of souls in the diocese," DeMarco said.
The lawsuit seeks damages for child abuse and negligence from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Diocese of San Bernardino, Rodriguez and his former religious order, the Vincentians.
Rodriguez's pattern of sexual abuse began early in his priesthood, according to Rodriguez's personnel file. Rodriguez was put on sick leave a year after he started his post as associate pastor at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Los Angeles.
Archbishop Roger Mahony, who later became a cardinal and a central figure in the 2002 Catholic sex abuse scandal, wrote a letter to the head of Rodriguez's religious order telling them the details of the priest's first-documented abuse, which is included the personnel file.
"Father Carlos Rodriguez, a newly-appointed Associate at St. Vincent's, went on vacation to the Grand Canyon this past week with two teenage boys," Mahony wrote. "During the week an incident of unlawful sexual touching took place with one of the boys."
Mahony wrote that Rodriguez admitted to abusing the boy and that the victim was threatening to get a lawyer to file suit.
A leader in the Vincentians wrote Rodriguez a letter, dated July 4, 1987, notifying him that he was being suspended because of the incident.
"You will be on indefinite sick-leave until such time when we and the medical people determine that you are ready to return to active ministry," the leader wrote.
On August 4, 1987, the family of the victim filed a sexual abuse complaint against Rodriguez with the LAPD, Rodriguez's personnel file shows.
An August 10 memo included in Rodriguez's personnel file, titled "CHILD MOLESTATION - FR. CARLOS RODRIGUEZ," reveals that the archdiocese was carefully analyzing the legal case that was being made against Rodriguez and that the abusive priest had quickly been sent out of state by his religious order.
"The police have attempted to contact St. Vincent's in order to talk to the priest and feel they are getting no cooperation," the memo said. "[The police officer] did confirm for me they have no jurisdiction over this case since the alleged criminal act occurred in Arizona."
Rodriguez, meanwhile, had been sent to St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland, a treatment center for troubled priests and other church leaders just days after Mahony's first letter in early July, according to records in Rodriguez's personnel file.
A memo addressed to Mahony from March 13, 1988, also included in Rodriguez's personnel file, shows that a representative from the archdiocese met with Rodriguez and his therapist at St. Luke's in Maryland.
"He has not been diagnosed as a pedophile but as having certain personality disorders," the memo explained. "He very much wants to continue to be a priest and to continue in ministry."
A letter from St. Luke's shows that Rodriguez had completed his treatment on March 15, 1988. By the end of March, Rodriguez was back in California living at the now-defunct St. Mary's Seminary in Santa Barbara.
Rodriguez wrote a letter in April 1988 to a leader in the archdiocese requesting permission to work with a family ministry program.
In the letter, Rodriguez said he wanted to work in domestic counseling and hoped to "stand clear of any involvement with any youth." Rodriguez also said in the letter that a friend at a church was looking for a "Spanish speaking priest for Sunday mass."
Rodriguez was hired as a part-time employee of the Office of Family Life at the archdiocese in early June 1988 to work in a Spanish-speaking ministry for families throughout Southern California, according to documents in Rodriguez's personnel file.
Evidence from Rodriguez's criminal conviction in 2004 would later show that he began sexually abusing the brothers Eric and Manuel Barragan soon after he started working for the Office of Family Life.
In 1992, leaders from the archdiocese exchanged letters about how Rodriguez was requesting to become a priest at a Los Angeles church again. In the letters, Monsignor Thomas Curry and Father Timothy Dyer expressed disappointment that Rodriguez did not understand that he cannot help lead a church after his sexual abuse case.
"In your recent communication, you indicated to me that one of your priests would like to seek a parish assignment here in the Archdiocese," Dyer wrote to one of Rodriguez's managers. "In response to that inquiry, I have to tell you that given the nature and details of this case, the Archdiocese would not be willing to confirm an assignment to parish ministry for this man."
On April 1, 1993, a leader from the Vincentians wrote Dyer to inform him that Rodriguez was no longer a member of the religious order and that he was permitted to live outside of the community's house. While no reason was provided in the letter, the conditions of his termination were clear. Rodriguez was no longer authorized to be a priest in the archdiocese.
Rodriguez was completely removed from the Catholic priesthood on April 7, 1998.
The victim of Rordriguez's first-documented abuse told authorities of the incident on the trip to the Grand Canyon. Rodriguez was charged in 2002 with lewd acts on a child, but it was found that the statute of limitation prevented the case from moving forward.
|Carlos Rene Rodriguez during a service. (Photo: The DeMarco Law Firm)|
In 2003, the Barragan brothers reported their allegations of the abuse they suffered from Rodriguez. In Ventura County in 2004, Rodriguez was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for molesting the Barragan brothers between the years of 1988 and 1993.
The Barragan brothers were among a group of 45 people with whom the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled in 2006 for the abuse they suffered from priests. The payout was approximately $60 million.
The new civil case alleges that Rodriguez continued to act as a priest at churches in Riverside in early 1993, right around the time he was released from his community in the archdiocese. The new lawsuit claims that the diocese neglected to check Rodriguez's background when he began acting as a priest in Riverside.
After being served the court documents, John Andrews, spokesperson for the Diocese of San Bernardino, said diocese administrators searched the records of the churches where the plaintiffs allege Rodriguez was ministering.
Andrews said records at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Riverside confirmed that Rodriguez had been acting as a priest in Riverside when the abuse allegedly occurred.
“We searched the sacramental records at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine and found that Father Rodriguez had performed 15 baptisms and three weddings in 1993,” Andrews said. “He came into the diocese unbeknownst to the diocesan leadership.”
Andrews said Rodriguez was supposed to request permission to minister in the diocese by presenting the local bishop with a letter showing he was in good standing as a priest. But Rodriguez never did, Andrews said.
The diocese did not find records of Rodriguez ministering at St. Anthony’s in Riverside, the other church the plaintiffs say he was affiliated with, Andrews said.
The plaintiffs in the new civil case alleged they were abused as young children, when Rodriguez exploited the trust that the devoutly Catholic family had for the priest.
The family met Rodriguez when they attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Riverside, one of the plaintiffs claims in the filing. Before long, the family regularly had Rodriguez over for meals. One of the plaintiffs alleges that Rodriguez started sexually abusing him in 1993 when the priest stayed the night after dinner. The plaintiff says in the filing that he was abused too many times to count.
Mike Reck, a lawyer that has represented a number of victims in several child abuse cases against priests in the Catholic Church, said shuffling priests to new locations after problems arise is a strategy church leaders have used to prevent sex abuse cases from reaching the courts.
“This is very consistent with what the church calls ‘the geographic solution,’” Reck said. “They simply move him to another diocese or out of state so the priest can’t be prosecuted.”
While Rodriguez's personnel file shows that the Vincentians sent Rodriguez to treatment in Maryland after his first documented abuse, the new case alleges that Rodriguez started acting like a priest in Riverside when he was denied his request to minister in Los Angeles and the Diocese of San Bernardino failed to catch him in the act.
The Diocese of San Bernardino does not know how long Rodriguez ministered in Riverside. He wasn't completely removed from the priesthood until 1998 and wasn't convicted until 2004.
Rodriguez served four years of an eight-year sentence in prison after his criminal conviction for abusing the Barragan brothers. He disappeared soon after his release in 2008, like other disgraced priests following sex abuse scandals. But before long Rodriguez was caught ministering again.
|Carlos Rene Rodriguez (Photo: The DeMarco Law Firm)|
In November 2016, Fox 11 in Los Angeles reported that Rodriguez had been found ministering at a local church under the name Carlos Martinez. After being told Rodriguez was a convicted sex offender, the church later barred Rodriguez from their community.
One of the plaintiffs in the civil case recognized Rodriguez on television and decided to contact a lawyer about the abuse he had suffered in the early 1990s.
“I recognized him right away,” the plaintiff said in court filings. “The next day, I called Tony DeMarco and said this happened to me and you gotta get this guy off the streets before he does it again.”