CA -- Promotion of San Francisco Bishop raises concern

Statement by Tim Lennon of San Francisco, Bay Area Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (415-312-5820, [email protected])

For the safety of kids and the healing of victims, we hope that journalists and Catholics in San Diego ask incoming Bishop Robert McElroy specific questions about his actions and inactions in recent San Francisco predator priest situations.

We’re disturbed by his track record on clergy sex abuse and cover up cases.


McElroy’s done little or nothing positive about several predator priests while he’s been a bishop in San Francisco. Here are just three troubling cases that surfaced during his tenure. In none of them, as best we can tell, did he take any positive role or moves.

--Fr. John H. Wadeson was accused of molesting at least two kids and was banned from working in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. But in 2014 he was found working in the San Francisco Archdiocese. Finally, he was removed from active ministry last July but only after victims exposed this recklessness.

--In 2002, a very high profile priest, Father Miles O’Brien Riley resigned or was “retired” by San Francisco Catholic officials after a relationship with a minor.  He has also been credibly accused of raping and sexually assaulting an eleven year old girl. But in 2013, he was caught still publicly functioning as a priest in a clear and egregious violation of the church’s abuse policy. McElroy and his colleagues ignored our pleas to discipline and denounce Riley.

--Finally, just last month there were disturbing allegations at a San Francisco Catholic school.

Several teachers at Archbishop Riordan High School feel attacked by principal Vittorio Anastasio because they reported “sexually-graphic pictures and a racy video of a student” being circulated at the school. ABC7 news reports that “the principal played a video of a 17-year-old Riordan High student. The teachers say the boy, in khaki pants and no shirt, appeared to be at a party lifting girls' skirts to reveal their naked bottoms and touching them in a sexual way.”

There are three troubling parts to this.

First, San Francisco Catholic officials say they looked into “suggestive photographs of adults” but apparently refused to address accusations of the inappropriate video of teenagers. Was it given to police? We call on San Francisco’s archbishop to immediately and thoroughly explain what he and his staff did about this video.

Second, Catholic officials claim to have done an ‘investigation’ into these allegations. But the truth is that a retired Catholic principal made some phone calls from out-of-state and claims that nothing wrong happened. That’s wrong. That’s a “whitewash,” not an “investigation.”

Third, for decades now, Catholic bishops have pledged to be “open” about known and suspected sexual misdeeds by their staff. But San Francisco church officials refuse to answer questions about this troubling situation.

We hope McElroy will be more forthcoming in San Diego than he was in San Francisco. But we’re not optimistic.

His handlers will claim “McElroy wasn’t in charge in San Francisco. He can’t be blamed for what happened there.”

That’s of course technically true but basically nonsense. He could and should have shown true courage, compassion, integrity and leadership and spoken out about these disturbing cases and others. And he was one of the top three church officials in San Francisco.

(Several auxiliary bishops, notably Joseph Galante in Dallas, have found the strength to stand up to and speak out against a complicit Catholic supervisor. Dozens of priests, nuns, seminarians and other clerics have done likewise in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases.)

Often Catholics feel hopeful when a new bishop is named. Many of them naively assume the new guy will do better at protecting kids than the old guy. But that’s rarely the case.

The newer breed of bishop is usually just more media savvy than the older breed. Prelates like McElroy seem more warm and outgoing and open. But when it comes to dealing with clerics who commit or conceal child sex crimes, they almost always act in the same reckless, callous and deceitful ways as their predecessors.

So we urge San Diego Catholics and citizens to avoid the temptation to become complacent. Complacency protects no one. Only vigilance protects children.

And we urge San Diego Catholics and citizens to share anything they know or suspect about child sex crimes and cover ups with law enforcement, no matter how old, small or seemingly insignificant the information or suspicions may be. It’s our duty to contact police and prosecutors if we see, suspect or suffer crimes. It’s their duty to determine whether action can be taken.

And when law enforcement cannot pursue a case, we urge victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to contact other independent sources of help – therapists, support groups, loved ones – rather than give up and carry the burden alone.


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