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,
"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
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,"
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
Staff Writer Dana Bartholomew contributed to this story.