San Bernardino Priest and Former High School Teacher Accused of Abuse

Earlier this week, San Bernardino Diocese officials announced that a retired priest and former high school teacher, Father Robert J. Donat, has been accused of sexual abuse by at least one boy.  Donat taught at Aquinas High School.  He now lives and works in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

It takes an extreme amount of bravery for a victim to come forward and report abuse by a trusted priest and high school teacher.  We hope that if there are any more victims - of Donat or any other priest in the Diocese of San Bernardino or the Archdiocese of Los Angeles - that they come forward and seek help from law enforcement and self-help groups like ours, not church officials. 

We also urge church officials to make public any and all information they have on Fr. Donat and warn the community where he currently lives of the allegations of abuse.  We also beg them to use all means necessary to reach out to other potential victims and encourage them to call the police.  Our experience has shown us that many abusers molest more than one child, and reaching out to victims of Donat - or any other predator - can help keep kids safe right now.

In light of the recent arrest and conviction of Ontario priest Fr. Alex Castillo, we beg parents and Catholics to talk frankly with their children about abuse, talk to their friends about Fr. Donat and Fr. Castillo, and report any seen or suspected abuse to police.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com), Joelle Casteix (949-322-7434, jcasteix@gmail.com)

http://www.pe.com/localnews/sbcounty/stories/PE_News_Local_D_abuse16.3bf78b9.html

SAN BERNARDINO: Priest at Aquinas accused of abuse

10:36 PM PDT on Thursday, September 15, 2011

BY DAVID OLSON
STAFF WRITER
dolson@pe.com

A retired priest who taught at Aquinas High School in San Bernardino for 24 years has been accused of sexually abusing at least five former students, officials with the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino and an attorney for some of the alleged victims said.

The diocese this week sent emails and letters to people who attended the diocesan-run school when the Rev. Robert J. Donat taught there between 1969 and 1993, said John Andrews, a diocesan spokesman. More than 1,600 alumni were notified of an allegation by one man and encouraged to contact the diocese or police if they were abused, he said.

One of Donat's former students told the diocese that he had been abused in 1973.

At least five men have contacted a Newport Beach law firm that has handled previous priest-abuse cases, alleging that Donat abused them while they were Aquinas students, attorney Rebecca Rhoades said.

Rhoades declined to say whether the man who talked with the diocese is one of those five, to protect the alleged victims' privacy.

Rhoades said there may be many more victims. Most of the five men gave the law firm names of others who they said were or may have been abused by Donat, she said.

"He was at this high school for a long time," Rhoades said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Statute of limitations issues could prevent criminal charges from being filed against Donat, Rhoades said.

She also represents the parents of a 12-year-old boy molested by a former Ontario priest, the Rev. Alejandro Jose Castillo. He was sentenced on Aug. 31 to a year in jail for abusing the boy in 2008.

The boy's brother said he was abused by Castillo when he was 16, but no charges were brought because the one-year statute of limitations had expired. Ontario police have interviewed three other men who also said that Castillo abused them.

Andrews said only one man told the diocese of alleged abuse by Donat.

After leaving Aquinas, Donat was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Montclair until 2006, Andrews said. Statements on the allegations against Donat were read to parishioners at all Masses there last weekend, he said.

"The sexual abuse of children and young people is reprehensible and sinful in the eyes of our faith," Andrews said. "When we're confronted with a new allegation like this we are deeply saddened."

Donat was stripped of all priestly duties in the diocese more than a month ago, when a special diocesan review panel on sexual abuse comprised primarily of lay people deemed the accusations against him credible, Andrews said.

Donat, who has lived in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for the past five years, could not be reached for comment.

Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese, said Donat sometimes ministered at two Los Angeles area parishes and a hospital over the past five years. Letters announcing the abuse allegations will be read at the hospital and parishes in coming days, he said.

The Diocese of San Bernardino also notified the Diocese of San Diego, where Donat served from 1966 until 1969, Andrews said. San Diego church officials were unavailable for comment.

Second-hand information about the alleged 1973 abuse was provided to the diocese in December, Andrews said. The diocese contacted the alleged victim and, later, the San Bernardino police. The alleged abuse occurred when the student and Donat were out of state, he said.

Andrews declined to provide details about the accusations, including why the two were out of state, to protect the alleged victim's anonymity.

Rhoades said the alleged victims of Donat that she and others at her law firm have talked with told similar stories. Donat praised them as students, gained their trust, went out with them socially without making sexual advances and then later either had or attempted to have genital contact with them.

Anthony De Marco, an attorney who represents a man who claimed Castillo abused him, said he is not surprised by the allegations against Donat.

"The amount of guilt and shame these folks suffered from after this occurred keeps them silent," he said. "I'm firmly convinced that there are an untold number of other victims in Riverside County, San Bernardino County, Southern California and elsewhere who have been abused and have yet to come forward."

 Diocese of San Bernardino 

 office of the Vicar General

September 12, 2011
 
Dear Aquinas Alumnus,
 
I offer you greetings and my prayers that this 2011th year of our Lord finds you well.
You are most likely aware of the great struggle and pain that has resulted from the incidents of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, a matter of significant public awareness over the past decade. The Roman Catholic Church and our Diocese of San Bernardino, in particular, has responded to this terrible sin with a strong commitment to protect children and young people from abuse and make our churches and schools the safest of all environments.
 
As part of this commitment we have pledged to be transparent and forthcoming when we receive information about abuse alleged of a priest who has ministered in our diocese. In this regard, we must share the following information with you:
 
The Diocese of San Bernardino has recently received information regarding an allegation of sexual abuse involving Father Robert J. Donat, a priest of our diocese who ministered in the Diocese of San Diego and the Diocese of San Bernardino from 1966 until his retirement in 2006. The abuse, which involved a male minor, is alleged to have occurred in 1973 while Fr. Donat was in ministry as a teacher at Aquinas High School. The incident is alleged to have taken place at a location out-of-state and not on or near the school campus.
 
Information regarding this allegation was forwarded to the Diocesan Review Board, an independent body created to review allegations of sexual abuse made against Church personnel. The Board determined the allegation against Fr. Donat to be credible.
 
You are receiving this communication because school records show that you attended Aquinas High School during the time in which Fr. Donat was a teacher there.
 
We take this opportunity, in accordance with diocesan policy, to encourage anyone who may have been abused in the past by Father Donat or any church personnel to contact the Diocesan Abuse Reporting Hotline (1-888-206-9090) or your local police agency as soon as possible.
 
The Church of San Bernardino remains steadfastly committed to protecting children and to healing victims of abuse.
 
Thank you and God bless you.
 
Very Rev. Monsignor Gerard M. Lopez
Vicar General
Diocese of San Bernardino
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published this page in Media Statements 2011-09-16 13:15:00 -0500
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