Local Priest Ousted in 1997 after Molest Claim, Diocese Says

By Sandi Dolbee and Susan Gembrowski
San Diego Union-Tribune
April 26, 2002

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego dismissed a San Diego priest five years ago after he was accused of molesting a young male patient at Scripps Memorial Hospital-La Jolla.

The Rev. Daniel Polizzi was immediately suspended after being accused of the abuse in October 1996, and the diocese took further action in 1997, according to a church statement released yesterday.

"Although the law enforcement investigation did not result in criminal charges against Father Polizzi, in 1997 he was permanently impeded from priestly ministry by the Diocese of San Diego," the statement said.

The action means that Polizzi cannot serve as a priest here or in any other diocese, said church spokeswoman Bernadeane Carr. Polizzi, 58, a Pacific Beach resident, reacted with shock yesterday afternoon when he was told what the diocese said.

"I'm astonished by the fact that they said that, because it isn't true," he said. He repeated a few moments later, "This is not true."

The alleged incident was made public when a woman who identified herself as a nurse called Ted Leitner's radio talk show on KFMB-AM 760 on Tuesday morning and told him about it.

The nurse said she worked in the hospital unit where a 16-year-old boy had been on a ventilator for several years. She said he could only communicate by using his eyes, but that the youth was able to let another hospital worker know that he had been fondled by a visiting priest.

The caller said this occurred two years ago, and that the boy later died. However, both the hospital and the diocese said the incident was in October 1996.

Scripps Memorial, in a brief statement released after the nurse's remarks, said it reported the complaint to Child Protective Services, the state Department of Health Services, the San Diego diocese and the San Diego Police Department. A hospital spokeswoman refused to identify the boy's family or provide more details, citing patient confidentiality.

But in its statement, also released after the nurse's comments, the diocese identified the priest as Polizzi and said he had been serving as a Catholic chaplain.

Polizzi's attorney, Michael McCabe, said yesterday his client "vigorously denies any wrongdoing."

He said police "fully investigated the circumstances, which included the fact that the door to the patient's room was open at all times, the patient was being monitored on closed-circuit TV during Father Polizzi's visit and a male nurse checked on the patient during the visit and found nothing untoward or suspicious."

A police lieutenant in the sex-crimes unit said he was not familiar with the case and needed to review records.

McCabe noted that no charges were filed and questioned why the diocese would make the allegation public at this time. The attorney would not answer questions about his client's status with the church or what he is doing now.

Church officials would not comment on why the diocese waited several years to release the information. But a spokesman for a group representing victims of priest abuse said this is a classic example of secrecy by church hierarchy.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said church leaders should disclose disciplinary information as soon as it occurs.

"They owe that to people, because knowledge is power, and with knowledge parents can protect themselves and their kids," Clohessy said.

According to information provided by the diocese, Polizzi was ordained as a priest in Santa Rosa in 1969 and transferred to San Diego the next year. He ministered on college campuses and did graduate study before leading the diocese's Department of Family Life, where among other things he helped launch a program for newly married couples.

In 1990, Polizzi transferred to Hawaii for three years. In 1994, he was assigned as chaplain of Scripps Memorial and Thornton hospitals in La Jolla.

This case comes to light just as American cardinals are returning from an unprecedented meeting with Pope John Paul II to address what has become a growing national scandal of sex abuse by priests. As with this allegation, many of the cases go back years but are only now being revealed.

Since the revelations began unfolding in January, one bishop has stepped down and dozens of priests across the country have been removed from active ministry.

Last month, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom said in a statement that he was not aware "of any priests in ministry in the Diocese of San Diego at this time who have been involved in the sexual abuse of minors."

Brom, however, did not address past cases.

In other news yesterday, the Boston Archdiocese released 800 additional documents concerning an accused predatory priest who retired to San Diego several years ago. The documents show that church officials there knew that the Rev. Paul Shanley had advocated sex between men and boys, yet they allowed him to continue working as a parish priest, The Boston Globe reported.

The documents were turned over to attorneys representing Gregory Ford, who says he was molested repeatedly by Shanley in the 1980s and is suing Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

Shanley, 71, has been in hiding since the allegations surfaced weeks ago and has not been seen around his Hillcrest apartment.


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