10 California Priests in Lawsuits Still
L.A. Archdiocese says it lacks evidence of abuse. Cases test limits
of the 'zero tolerance' policy.
By William Lobdell and Jean Guccione
February 7, 2004
Still in Ministry
At least 10 priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles
remain in parish ministry despite lawsuits filed late last year
that accuse them of molesting children.
Among the priests are some of the archdiocese's most prominent
clerics, including Msgr. Richard A. Loomis, former head of clergy
who oversaw misconduct allegations against priests; Msgr. Patrick
Reilly in Burbank; and Father Michael J. Carroll, who was voted
Walnut's man of the year last week.
Church leaders justified their action by citing lack of evidence
to support the allegations and, in some cases, their inability to
interview the victims. Announcements of the accusations were made
in the congregations of the priests last Sunday.
Each cleric has denied wrongdoing, and none are under criminal
The cases test the limits of the Vatican's "zero tolerance"
policy against priestly misconduct and point to the conflicts the
church faces in policing itself.
Archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg said that although many past
claims of sexual abuse have been credible, "not all allegations
are true or immediately credible."
"And there are those that are demonstrably false," he
said. "To take someone out of ministry when allegations are
false or there is a severe lack of first- or even second-hand information
is not only unjust to the person accused, it also diminishes the
impact of those claims which are credible and true."
The archdiocese's stance has infuriated victims' advocates, who
say that once again the church has put the protection of priests
over the safety of children.
"The problem is not false allegations," said John Manly,
a Costa Mesa attorney whose firm represents about 80 alleged victims
of sexual abuse by priests. "The problem is child rape. When
are the bishops going to get that through their thick ecclesiastical
The debate over how to treat the priests named in lawsuits comes
as the archdiocese is also battling prosecutors and civil litigants
over access to personnel files on accused priests.
The church has argued that the files are confidential and protected
from disclosure by law; prosecutors insist that the documents are
necessary to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing.
The priests still in active ministry are among about 200 Los Angeles-area
clerics named in an avalanche of litigation in 2003.
The lawsuits were filed after California lifted for one year the
statute of limitations for older cases of sexual abuse involving
minors. About 500 people sued the Los Angeles Archdiocese last year,
out of 800 suits statewide.
Asked about the accusations, Loomis, who was vicar for clergy from
1996 to 2000 said: "I have not done anything wrong."
Speaking of his accuser, he added, "I do not recall this person,
and I did not molest him."
Similarly, Manuel Sanchez of Sacred Heart Church in Pomona said
Friday that he did not even know his accuser. "I am completely
innocent of the charges," the priest said. He said he learned
of "this terrible accusation" six months ago and believed
that his accuser was either "looking for money or he sincerely
confused me with another person."
Another of the priests, James M. Ford of San Roque Church in Santa
Barbara, said he was "shocked when I heard of this lawsuit."
Ford said he was "deeply hurt by this allegation of 35 years
ago. It's completely and absolutely false."
Edward Dober of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Paramount released
a statement denying the allegation. "The archdiocese did not
find it credible, and there is no basis for the lawsuit," the
The other priests still on active ministry, each of whom denied
the allegations personally or through an attorney, are Sean Cronin
of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Northridge, Walter Fernando of
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Pasadena, Richard
Martini of Transfiguration Church in Los Angeles and Samuel Orellana
of Presentation of Mary Church, also in L.A.
In some cases, the status of the clerics facing allegations exposes
a contentious and largely unexplored area of the church's zero-tolerance
policy, which was adopted in 2002 and calls for removing priests
against whom credible allegations of molestation have been made.
The policy is silent about a cleric's status between the time an
allegation is lodged and a church investigation is completed.
Should a priest, accused of a decades-old molestation, be immediately
placed on administrative leave until an inquiry is complete? Or
should he remain at his post until the church determines that there
is sufficient evidence to remove him?
"In some cases, it's a very, very shaky allegation by someone
who's not very credible," said Father Robert J. Silva, president
of the National Federation of Priests' Councils. "On the other
we want to be very sensitive to the victims."
Nor does the policy define "sufficient evidence," the
standard of proof needed to remove a priest from ministry under
the reformed policy.
"It all hangs on what's credible evidence, and that's up to
interpretation," said Father Thomas J. Reese, editor of the
Catholic weekly magazine America.
The 194 U.S. dioceses operate independently and report only to
the Vatican. Some dioceses, New Orleans, for example, follow investigative
procedures similar to those in Los Angeles. In others, including
the Diocese of Orange, officials immediately place accused priests
on administrative leave until inquiries are completed. Similar policies
are in force in Seattle, Pittsburgh and Lafayette, La.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese's decision to keep accused priests
in ministry has put further strain on the already acrimonious relationship
between the church hierarchy and alleged victims and their advocates.
"I wouldn't trust the church to investigate anything,"
said Father Thomas P. Doyle, who co-wrote a report to U.S. bishops
in 1985 warning of problems with abusive priests. "From history,
we'd know it's self-serving. They shouldn't be investigating; someone
should be investigating them."
Victims' advocates say filing a lawsuit should provide enough evidence
to justify placing a priest on leave. California law requires an
independent therapist to attest to the merits of a plaintiff's allegations
before a sexual abuse lawsuit can be filed. After that, a judge
must decide if the suit has merit enough to proceed.
"One must convince both an attorney and a therapist before
filing," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors
Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "So one could argue
that church officials ought to give more weight and credence to
an allegation that is publicly presented in civil courts over one
that's privately presented" in a church office.
SNAP members in Los Angeles plan to protest the archdiocese's policy
Sunday at the parishes of the accused priests.
"Church officials don't believe the victims, the police, mental
health professionals and judges," said Mary Grant, regional
director of the group. "I don't believe church officials are
in a dilemma. They know exactly what they are doing in stonewalling
and protecting priests."
But others said that without hard evidence, placing a priest on
administrative leave was fundamentally unfair and could lead to
"The way priests are investigated and handled and treated
is unconscionable," said William Donohue, president of the
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a conservative group
with 350,000 members. "Bishops protect themselves [from public
outcry] at the expense of the accused priests. They are selling
them down the river."
Attorney Donald Steier, who represents eight of the 10 accused
priests still in Los Angeles Archdiocese parishes, said a single
allegation of abuse without corroborating evidence
shouldn't be enough to put a clergyman on leave.
"It doesn't appear that they are a current risk to anybody,
so unless there is more to it, there's still a certain presumption
[of innocence] in this country," he said. Steier said that
the required psychological reports are filed under seal and that
neither the archdiocese nor the priests can review them.
Some of the announcements read in the parishes of accused priests
last weekend include the most detailed explanations of the abuse
allegations made by the archdiocese to date.
In half the cases, parishioners were told that the archdiocese's
Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board, which consists of 11 laypeople
and two others, investigated and found no evidence of misconduct.
In the other cases, the board did not recommend that the accusers
be placed on administrative leave.
In a few cases, for instance, the archdiocese said it had been
unable to interview the accuser and considered the allegations "hearsay
in nature," lacking the kind of detail needed for the archdiocese
to conduct a thorough investigation and for the priest to present
a reasonable defense.
Excerpts from the Catholic Church's Charter for the Protection
of Children and Young People
ARTICLE 5. We repeat the words of our Holy Father in his address
to the cardinals of the United States and conference officers: "There
is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would
harm the young."
When an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or a
deacon is received, a preliminary investigation
will be initiated
and conducted promptly and objectively. If this investigation so
indicates, the diocesan/eparchial bishop will both notify the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith and
relieve the alleged offender
promptly of his ministerial duties.
Source: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Priests accused of abuse in lawsuits
These 10 Roman Catholic priests were accused of sexual abuse in
civil lawsuits filed last year. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has
reviewed the allegations, and all remain in parish ministry.
Michael J. Carroll, pastor, San Lorenzo Ruiz Church, Walnut
Accused of molesting a teenage girl from 1967-71 at St. Anselm
Parish in Los Angeles.
He denied the allegation. The Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board
of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles recommended he
remain in the ministry.
Sean Cronin, associate pastor, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Northridge
Accused of molesting two children between 1972 and 1980 while at
St. Genevieve Parish in Panorama City and St. Monica Parish in Santa
He denied the allegations. The board recommended he remain in parish
ministry pending further investigation.
Edward Dober, pastor, Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Paramount
Accused of fondling a boy at Queen of the Angels Junior Seminary
in Los Angeles in 1990 and 1991.
He denied the allegations. The board found "no evidence of
misconduct." Parishioners were told Dober had the archdiocese's
Walter Fernando, associate pastor, Assumption of the Blessed
Virgin Mary Church, Pasadena
Accused of molesting a woman in 1981 at St. Hilary Parish in Pico
He denied the allegations. Los Angeles police said he made incriminating
statements during a taped conversation with the alleged victim.
The board recommended he remain in parish ministry and stated it
had insufficient information to investigate.
James M. Ford, pastor, San Roque Church, Santa Barbara
Accused of molesting a teenager from about 1968 to 1971 at an unspecified
parish in the city of Orange.
He denied the allegation. The board found it was "not appropriate"
to place him on administrative leave "based on information
Msgr. Richard A. Loomis, pastor, Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua Church,
Accused of molesting a boy between 1969 and 1971 when he taught
at a Los Angeles-area Catholic high school.
He denied the allegation. The board found "no credible evidence
of misconduct has been presented to us." Parishioners were
told that Loomis had the archdiocese's "complete confidence."
Richard Martini, pastor, Transfiguration Church, Los Angeles
Accused of fondling a boy at Queen of the Angels Junior Seminary
in Los Angeles in 1990 and 1991.
He denied the allegations, and the board found "no evidence
of misconduct." Parishioners were told Martini had the archdiocese's
Samuel Orellana, associate pastor, Presentation of Mary Church,
Accused of misconduct in 1987 at Sagrado Corazon Parish in Compton.
He denied the allegation and said he did not remember the accuser.
The board recommended he remain in the ministry pending further
Msgr. Patrick Reilly, pastor emeritus, St. Robert Bellarmine
Accused of misconduct between 1980 and 1984 while at Sacred Heart
Parish in Covina.
He denied the allegations. The oversight board found there was
"no credible evidence of misconduct."
Msgr. Manuel Sanchez, pastor emeritus, Sacred Heart Church, Pomona
Accused of molesting a child in 1981 while pastor at Sacred Heart
Parish in Pomona.
The board found that "the evidence did not support the charges."
Sources: Archdiocese of Los Angeles and lawsuits. Photos from Archdiocese
of Los Angeles 2002 Catholic Directory.