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Sisters Allege Abuse by Transferred Priest

Three women say archdiocese moved Father G. Neville Rucker in 1970 after other allegations. He was ousted in April.

By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
June 21, 2002

Three sisters are alleging they were molested as youngsters by a priest after the Los Angeles archdiocese transferred him to their parish despite knowing allegations of abuse had been made against the priest in the past.

The sisters allege they were abused by Father G. Neville Rucker in the early 1970s at St. Agatha Church in Los Angeles' West Adams district. They are demanding an apology from Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and a face-to-face meeting with the now-retired priest.

Rucker came to St. Agatha in 1970, three years after two 9-year-old girls told the El Segundo police that the cleric molested them while he was at St. Anthony Church, police records show. Rucker retired in 1987. In April, Mahony removed him from the ministry because of the 1967 allegations and forced him to move out of the Pacific Palisades rectory, saying Rucker had run afoul of the archdiocese's new zero tolerance policy for priests who molest minors.

Rucker's removal came 35 years after Mahony's predecessor--then-Bishop Timothy Manning--persuaded the mother of one of the El Segundo girls not to seek criminal charges against Rucker, records show.

The mother told police Manning had assured her "he would like the Church to take care of the matter, and he would see that it was done properly," according to a police report.

The Times' report of Rucker's removal from the ministry in April caused one of the sisters who claim he molested them at St. Agatha to go to the police.

Los Angeles Police Lt. Daniel Mulrenin said the publicity caused others to call, and detectives now are investigating "several" reports of abuse by Rucker.

"After all these years, I hoped he'd died of natural causes," said the middle sister, now 40. The recent report of Rucker's removal "forced me to relive some horrible memories. They are memories I'll never forget. I locked them away. I prayed no one would open that door. Now I learn he's done it before. I just want to know, why did they let it happen?" The Times does not name alleged sex crime victims.

Rucker, who lives in a Catholic retirement facility in West Los Angeles, refused to comment.

The sister recalls Rucker as the pastor who liked to share cookies, hugs and touches in places that she could not tell anyone about. She and her sisters said the abuse occurred for parts of two years, 1973 and 1974. Then, one night, overhearing her mother say how glad she was her children attended St. Agatha's school, the girl blurted out her secret.

After that night, she and her mother said, her father marched down to the rectory and confronted parish officials.

Tod Tamberg, archdiocese spokesman, acknowledged that Rucker was transferred after the 1967 El Segundo molestation claim.

Rucker told El Segundo police he was innocent. One of the two alleged victims, whose mother agreed not to press charges, sued Rucker and the archdiocese in 1993. Two years later, the priest settled the lawsuit with a confidential $20,000 payment. In the settlement agreement, he maintained his innocence.

Rucker's name was turned over to authorities early this year, Tamberg said. Los Angeles police and sheriff's deputies now are investigating allegations against 50 current or former priests.

Amid the growing number of complaints, the archdiocese this week revamped its clergy misconduct review board. An attorney for the three sisters said he sent a letter Monday to the board's chairman , retired Judge Richard P. Byrne, and to Mahony. The attorney, Arthur Goldberg, said he requested an apology from the cardinal, an explanation for why Rucker was allowed to continue as a cleric after the 1967 abuse complaint, and a face-to-face meeting with the priest so the women can "confront their demons."

"What is disturbing to these now mature women is that officials of the Catholic Church knew as early as the 1960s that Father Rucker was a sexual predator of young girls," Goldberg wrote.

Goldberg also asked for the church to cover therapy costs, issue a public declaration on a zero tolerance policy and provide financial compensation to the victims for their "pain and suffering." "These women are not seeking revenge. They will work as long as it takes to achieve justice."

Four days after the police closed the 1967 case, the archdiocese transferred Rucker to St. Teresa of Avila in Los Angeles, then to Holy Trinity Church in Los Angeles and Holy Cross Church and eventually to St. Agatha Church in July 1970.

At St. Agatha, the middle sister said, "Rucker would take me to the rectory. He'd give me an oatmeal cookie. He'd be smiling and talking and then reach inside my panties."

She said it left her scarred mentally and struggling with her faith. Seven years ago, she said, she went on a pilgrimage to Venezuela in hopes of forgiving Rucker and restoring her trust in priests. Today, she attends the Faithful Central Baptist Church, which holds its services at the Forum, but she says her fear and depression have turned to anger. "I want him charged," she said.

Her younger sister said she suppressed her memories of Rucker until she was told about his ousting by Mahony this year. "I'd never talked to anyone about this. I remember going into the rectory with him and him touching me," the 37-year-old woman alleges.

The oldest of the sisters said Rucker was always "over friendly" with her. "He'd pull me close," she said. "We did not say anything because he was the priest."

What happened when their father went to see parish officials remains unclear because he is dead. "My husband went to the church, and we never saw the priest after that," said the sisters' mother.

Rucker was the pastor assigned to St. Agatha Church until 1979, when he became pastor at Corpus Christi Church in Pacific Palisades.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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