Calipatria Church Told of Alleged Priest Abuse; Inquiry Names Now-Dead Pastor

By Sandi Dolbee
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 3, 2003

Parishioners attending Mass yesterday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in the Imperial County town of Calipatria were told that a now-dead priest molested several minors during his 27-year tenure.

In a letter distributed during services, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom said his investigation found that the Rev. Robert S. Koerner "sexually abused children throughout the years of his pastorate at St. Patrick's, from 1963 to 1990."

Brom's letter asked other victims or their families to contact the diocese. He also apologized "to Father Koerner's victims and their families for the harm done to them. I wish to reach out to them with pastoral concern and care and to promote healing and reconciliation with them."

Parishioners listened "very quietly," said the Rev. Amador Lopez, St. Patrick's pastor.

Brom first learned of the accusations during a pastoral visit to the small, heavily Latino church in October. The San Diego diocese includes churches in San Diego and Imperial counties.

"People mentioned to him that that was part of the history of the parish, and that's when he began to investigate," said Rodrigo Valdivia, the diocese's chancellor.

Several victims — "more than two or three" — have been identified so far, Valdivia said. All were minors at the time, but Valdivia would not specify their gender except to say they were "generally boys."

Koerner was a priest with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He left St. Patrick's in 1990 and died in 1999, according to the diocese.

Valdivia said there was no record of complaints made against Koerner. Lopez, who has been at St. Patrick's for the past five years, said no one had ever mentioned a problem to him.

"I was so surprised when the bishop told me about it," he said.

This is the second time since the abuse became a nationwide scandal that Brom has publicly named a priest alleged to be abusive and asked any additional victims to come forward. In August, Brom revealed that retired Monsignor Rudolph Galindo had admitted sexually abusing three boys.

In his letter to St. Patrick's, the bishop repeated something he has maintained throughout the enveloping crisis: "To my knowledge, we have no priests who have sexually abused minors in active ministry in the Diocese of San Diego."


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