Los Angeles Diocesan Screenings for Abusers Give Slack to Undocumented
In L.A. and O.C., illegal immigrant Catholics can
volunteer with children without background checks because they lack
the required ID.
By Jennifer Delson, LA Times Staff Writer
June 22, 2006
Not wanting to lose illegal immigrant volunteers, the Los Angeles
and Orange Roman Catholic dioceses have quietly backed away from
a pledge to root out pedophiles by running fingerprint background
checks on anyone who works with children.
The revamped policy in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles allows church
volunteer candidates without government-issue identification to
give instead a sworn affidavit stating that they have not been convicted
of any crime. In Orange, potential volunteers without photo IDs
can submit a sworn affidavit and two letters of reference attesting
to their character.
Church leaders said background checks of illegal immigrants are
virtually impossible without government photo identification, and
the church stood to lose a small army of volunteers in heavily Latino
parishes unless the photo ID requirement was dropped.
Those who don't have background checks are allowed to work with
children, but only under supervision, church officials said.
The policies, revamped last year and recently uncovered by The
Times, outraged victim advocates who said the dioceses are putting
concern for illegal immigrants before the protection of children.
"It's scary. I didn't know they were doing this," said
Rita Milla, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-area Survivors Network
of Those Abused by Priests. "They are just trying to be too
politically correct, even though it means putting the kids at risk.
If someone can't prove who they are, they shouldn't be volunteering."
In response to the church's molestation scandal, which erupted
across the nation in 2002, U.S. bishops mandated background checks
that same year for priests and deacons. In the following years,
the mandate expanded to include diocesan employees and volunteers.
The L.A. Archdiocese, on its website, recommends that "adult
parish volunteers who have regular supervisory contact with minors
The Diocese of Orange policy states that it "conducts fingerprint
background checks on all adults who have regular and consistent
contact with minors."
Between the two dioceses, more than 70,000 priests, employees and
volunteers have been fingerprinted, church officials said.
In Orange, the background checks resulted in the removal of 11
employees or volunteers, said chancellor Shirl Giacomi. Nine had
been convicted of violent crimes and two had records of sexual abuse,
Figures for Los Angeles were not available late Wednesday.
Fingerprint background checks, which are processed by the federal
Department of Justice, cannot be done without government-issue photo
identification. "Individuals who are fingerprinted must show
a valid form of photo identification to ensure the person being
fingerprinted is the person they say they are," said Tom Dresslar,
spokesman for the state attorney general's office.
In Orange County, Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto wrote to priests
and Catholic educators in the Orange Diocese in August to say that
the Department of Justice would not conduct criminal background
checks with a Mexican-issued identification card known as matricula
"I propose that we continue with the provisional policy requiring
an affidavit in lieu of the fingerprints because the [Justice Department]
has made it impractical, if not impossible, for all our volunteers
to comply," Soto wrote.
Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the office of child and
youth protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said
the church's national policy stipulates only that a diocese "figure
out a methodology to check those who have contact with children.
It doesn't specify they must be fingerprinted."
Church officials said volunteers who are immigrants are essential
to many parish programs, especially the religious education of children.
Soto said if the Department of Justice would do fingerprint background
checks without government photo IDs, the diocese would do them.
But until then, the auxiliary bishop said the Orange Diocese must
find ways to allow illegal immigrants to be involved in parish life.
The immigrant community is a "significant segment of our church
and we want them to participate," Soto said. "We are doing
this because these people want to participate, they want to serve
their church and we want to welcome them."