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61 L.A. Priests Face Investigation

Los Angeles Daily News - June 20, 2002
By Ryan Oliver

Sixty-one current or former priests face investigation by the LAPD and the Sheriff's Department after 115 people filed complaints alleging they were sexually abused as youths, the Daily News learned Wednesday.

Because of the volume of cases, both the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have assembled special teams of investigators assigned exclusively to the widening sex abuse scandal involving Los Angeles Archdiocese clergy members. "We have, in the past, investigated religious leaders, but the complaints against the (Archdiocese of Los Angeles) more or less exploded with all the allegations that happened in Boston," said LAPD Lt. Dan Mulrenin, who is heading that agency's task force.

Officials said 59 people have lodged complaints with the LAPD against 40 priests, eight of whom might be deceased. The Sheriff's Department has received 56 complaints lodged against 21 priests, three of whom might be dead.

A check with numerous other local law enforcement agencies within the Los Angeles Archdiocese's area, which includes Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, yielded no additional complaints.

Mulrenin said the complaints were filed within the past four months, with most alleging molestation by a priest years, or even decades, ago.

"There's strength in numbers," Mulrenin said, speculating on the reason for the explosion of complaints. "They realize that because of the exposure in the media, they're not isolated. Maybe a lot of them have been repressing it and now they feel compelled to have their stories brought to the attention of law enforcement."

Mulrenin said the LAPD has sought information from the archdiocese, and "we continue to try to establish open lines of communication with them."

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said the church was not aware of all of the complaints being investigated by Los Angeles law enforcement, but said "a handful" of priests has been suspended as a result of allegations of sexual abuse.

"It certainly is not 60 or even 30," he said. "Police don't have to tell us they're conducting an investigation so they would probably have more names than we do. Nevertheless, I can say with confidence that every single priest who has been found to have abused a minor has been removed from ministry."

The probe into the Los Angeles Archdiocese is now nearing the magnitude of the scandal that has rocked the Archdiocese of Boston, where 85 clergy members are under investigation.

Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott said that in following up on complaints, investigators are seeking corroborating evidence because the alleged incidents typically occurred so long ago.

"We need something more than the victim's word on its own," Scott said.

Mulrenin said his unit is treating each clergy sex abuse case just like it would treat any other sex abuse allegation.

"We will go wherever the evidence leads us," Mulrenin said. "If someone is a child molester, irrespective of whether they're a priest, they need to be held accountable."

Police have formally submitted one case to prosecutors to review for criminal charges, but no case has been filed to date. The District Attorney's Office has one year from the date the complaint was made to file charges.

Also, under state law, clergy are required to report cases of sexual misconduct to police if the alleged victim was a child at the time the complaint was made. Mulrenin said investigators will try to determine whether church officials have complied with that law.

Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, said the office has also assembled a special team to handle juvenile cases involving clergy.

"We're reviewing these cases as they come in," Gibbons said. "We're working very closely with all law enforcement organizations that have investigations under way."

She refused to say whether a grand jury has been impaneled to look into allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

So far this year two San Fernando Valley cases have been made public. On June 8, Los Angeles police opened a criminal inquiry into allegations that Monsignor Chris Van Liefde, 53, of St. Genevieve's Catholic Church in Panorama City, engaged in "inappropriate conduct" 28 years ago.

Van Liefde also served as the Los Angeles Fire Department's chaplain. The archdiocese has placed the pastor on administrative leave.

In March, the Rev. Dominic Savino, president of Crespi High School in Encino, was removed after church officials found evidence supporting allegations of sexual misconduct with 10 teen-age boys between 1966 and 1979. The case also remains under investigation by authorities and the archdiocese.

Tamberg said the archdiocese will cooperate with the investigations in anyway it can.

"We welcome police involvement," Tamberg said. "If it's a false report, the police are the ones that are able to determine that very quickly and exonerate the person against whom the charges are made."

Staff Writer Dana Bartholomew contributed to this story.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests