An Ungodly Legacy of Pain
Former De LA Salle Students Say Abusive Counselor Made Lives Hell
By Katherine Seligman
San Francisco Chronicle
January 28, 2005
Soon after they met as freshmen at De La Salle High School in Concord, Chris Barbour and Will Lopes became the kind of friends who expected to know each other forever.
Barbour was a driven student who dreamed of being a pilot. Lopes was the homecoming king and the starting quarterback on the football team. The two former altar boys were popular, good-looking, well-liked by teachers.
But the two shared something else -- something that would derail their friendship and their lives, and, ultimately, embarrass the Roman Catholic order whose San Francisco district runs the prestigious school and at least 15 others in the region.
In 1980, both boys went to see a counselor they called Brother Joe, a member of the Christian Brothers order who sexually abused them, according to interviews, lawsuits and government documents.
What they didn't know was that Brother Joseph Jesse Gutierrez had been transferred by the Christian Brothers to Concord from Berkeley, where he'd had relationships with students that had "sexual overtones." That much was made public last month after the Christian Brothers paid Barbour $4 million -- one of the largest payments so far in the nationwide surge of lawsuits against the Catholic Church -- to settle a lawsuit.
On Thursday, armed with what came to light in Barbour's case, Lopes filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court alleging that the Christian Brothers had fraudulently concealed and misrepresented facts in negotiations that led to an undisclosed payout in 2002. Lopes, now a contractor in Oakland, said he had been "bewildered and disgusted" when he found out that there was evidence as early as 1968 that Gutierrez had inappropriate relationships with boys.
"I lost 20 years of my life to him," Lopes said. "I went through this incredibly difficult process of accepting the belief that they didn't know about him. ... I was sabotaged."
A spokesman for the Christian Brothers' San Francisco district said the order had not yet received the lawsuit and declined to comment. The lawsuit names the order, the former head of the San Francisco district, the archbishop of San Francisco and St. Mary's College, where Gutierrez was a counselor.
Lopes and Barbour, who are now 41, did not speak for 17 years. But they now tell similar stories of abuse and the damage it did to their lives.
Lopes says he suffered a mental breakdown after a 10-year association with Gutierrez. Barbour still struggles with bulimia. The settlements don't take away the shame and self-doubt they lived with, both say, but they believe the decision to talk may help others.
"I was the big man on campus," Lopes said. "I had plenty of people around who thought I was important and special. I'm evidence that it can happen to anyone."
Barbour, now an optometrist in Oregon, was already a molestation victim when he enrolled in De La Salle in 1977. As a 10-year-old, he said, a Boy Scout leader molested him on a camping trip.
It happened, he'd told himself, because he hadn't done enough penance. So he set out to make amends. He obsessively turned lights on and off. He licked the ground, thinking the self-punishment would appease God and keep him safe.
At De La Salle, things initially went well. Barbour joined the football team and met Lopes, a star athlete. The two hung out on weekends, racing mopeds, fishing and pretending to fight in wars in which they were the heroes.
But Barbour's memories were never far from the surface. One day he poured them out in a journal he kept for psychology class. When his teacher saw it, he told him, "You need to go see Joe," Barbour said.
Gutierrez was a former religion teacher at De La Salle who worked as a counselor out of a house in Walnut Creek and an office at St. Mary's. He had taught at the Concord school for several years, having been sent there from St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley, Lopes' lawsuit says.
It was not until Barbour filed his lawsuit in 2003 that a 1968 letter from the Christian Brothers' regional director, Brother Bertram Coleman, came to light. Coleman referred in the letter to Gutierrez's inappropriate relationships in Berkeley, saying, "We continue to get reports of activities that are questionable."
In the beginning, Barbour said, Gutierrez was an empathetic listener who cared about what had happened to him. He said he had reported back to his best friend, who was having problems at home. Soon, Lopes was showing up at the Walnut Creek house.
Barbour said the sessions had gradually progressed from massage to sexual acts. Gutierrez told him it was part of a plan for his spiritual growth and recovery, he said. Jesus, Gutierrez explained, was a bisexual. To be Christ-like, he said, was to imitate him and have sex with both genders.
Much the same thing was happening to Lopes, he said. In his lawsuit, Lopes said Gutierrez had molested him in an office he had at Holy Redeemer Church in San Francisco and had taken him to a gay bathhouse, where he had him engage in sex with other men.
"I was taught that priests are God on earth," he said. "Chris and I were so needy. We were set up to be perfect lambs."
At the time, they told no other adults. Gutierrez told Lopes that he'd had sex with former De La Salle students, including the teacher who referred Barbour, according to Lopes' lawsuit.
Jack O'Leary, a now-retired English teacher at De La Salle, said in an interview that he had heard in the early 1980s that Gutierrez was "abusing students from De La Salle." When he took his concerns to the provincial leader of the Christian Brothers, "He said 'thank you,' " O'Leary said. "He didn't seem surprised."
Gutierrez went on to lead healing retreats for people with AIDS and to work for the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma County. Father John Cruise, the center's director, said Gutierrez's contract had been terminated in 1986 after a staff member, who was seeing Gutierrez privately in San Francisco, filed a complaint accusing him of inappropriate sexual contact.
In 1989, acting on accusations by Barbour, another former De La Salle student and the Hanna Boys Center staffer, the state Board of Behavioral Science Examiners revoked Gutierrez's license.
Gutierrez, now known as Jesse Gutierrez-Cervantes, founded a communications consulting company in Sonoma that listed UC Medical Center and NASA among its clients. He did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. He has never been charged with a crime related to the molestation claims.
Officials from De La Salle and the Christian Brothers declined to comment about Gutierrez or the abuse lawsuits and referred questions to a spokesman, who said the school had "a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual misconduct."
"We are watchful for signs of any inappropriate sexual conduct," said spokesman Sam Singer. "For example, De La Salle High School conducts background checks and performs Justice Department fingerprints on all employees."
After Barbour and Lopes graduated from De La Salle, their lives diverged. Barbour worked at Safeway, then went to the University of Oregon, where he got a doctorate in neuropsychology. It was not until he left the Catholic Church and became a born-again Christian that he told his pastor and his parents what had happened in high school. His parents called police, but by then the statute of limitations had expired.
In 1986 Barbour went to see his friend Lopes, who was still seeing Gutierrez. Barbour asked him to join in his complaint against Gutierrez with the state board that regulated counseling licenses, but he refused.
Barbour said he was devastated that Lopes had "gone over to the dark side." By Lopes' own description he had become Gutierrez's "helper," working alongside him at workshops. He married at age 21, but that lasted only a few years, he said, overshadowed by the trauma of his relationship with Gutierrez.
At 27, Lopes began having panic attacks that left him unable to sleep, concentrate or work, he said. Gutierrez, he said, stopped seeking him out. Finally, Lopes checked into a mental hospital in Walnut Creek. It has been a slow, painful road back toward a normal life, he said.
Earlier this month, after 17 years, Barbour and Lopes caught up for the first time. Barbour is now married with two children. Lopes owns a contracting business, but has yet to have a family.
"Part of the grand design is to see him again," Barbour said, "and to restore relationships with people I avoided and tried to extinguish."
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