Livermore Priest Accused of Sexual Assault Had Prior Accusations
April 16, 2019
A Catholic priest accused of sexual assault in the East Bay also has some serious allegations from his past.
A young former seminarian who does not want to be identified says he was sexually assaulted by a priest he considered a mentor, Father Michael Van Dinh. He says it happened inside the rectory of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Livermore where he says Van Dinh lured him with the promise of helping him find a job.
“When I got there something didn’t feel right,” said the former seminarian. He says Van Dinh led him into a candlelit room and gave him a gift bag. “In those gifts he had oils and underwear thongs and a shirt and chocolate,” said the former seminarian.
Then he says Van Dinh forced him down onto a mattress. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t react. And he abused me,” he said. Police later recovered the underwear along with a blindfold, a meth pipe and five rubber rings from Van Dinh’s room.
What the former seminarian didn’t know was that Van Dinh was accused of engaging in inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact in the past, even though charges were never filed against him.
“What it shows is the lack of accountability of the church,” said his attorney, Sandra Ribera. She has now filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Oakland and Bishop Michael Barber, alleging they knew about prior allegations against Van Dinh.
“It’s our argument that the diocese had knowledge of these previous allegations and they kept him as a priest in the church and allowed this rape of my client to happen,” said Ribera.
The diocese says it has no report of any sexual assault by Van Dinh in the past. Since the current allegations do not involve a minor, Van Dinh’s name is not on the list of 45 credibly accused priests that the diocese released in February.
“Their list is just a joke! They know better,” said Joey Piscitelli of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He says his group compiled their own list and found 135 priests have been credibly accused, 90 more than those 45 listed by the diocese. “They have a history of hiding things, not being transparent,” said Piscitelli.
He says the priest who raped him back in the 70s, Father Stephan Whelan, was left off a previous list that the diocese released a decade ago, even though a jury found him guilty of rape. Whelan was finally added on to the diocese list this year.
Piscitelli says the most recent example of an omission is the case of Father Alex Castillo. In January Oakland police investigated an allegation from a minor that Castillo had inappropriately touched him. The diocese put Castillo on administrative leave and he has since fled the country.
We wanted to talk to Bishop Michael Barber about the omissions, and recent accusations that he delayed reporting the Castillo case to law enforcement, which itself could be a crime. He didn’t want to talk to us.
It’s an all too familiar story now for the former seminarian, who says he’s lost faith in the Catholic Church. “They decided to protect their own people, to protect their image,” he said. “I am not angry, I am hurt. I am in pain that they allow this to continue to happen, to me and to many others. It’s hard to grasp that the leader sits and does nothing.”
In Castillo’s case the diocese says an investigation is still underway so that is why he is not on their list.
Meanwhile, 12 more victims have come forward. But the diocese won’t say if they are connected to Father Castillo or other priests on the list of 45 that the diocese released.