Catholic Educator Under Investigation in California; SNAP Responds
(For Immediate Release June 8, 2023)
According to a report from NBC Bay Area, an adult altar server at an Oakland Catholic church, who also worked as a theology teacher at Marin Catholic High School, is being investigated by the Oakland police. The educator, Jonathan Chavez, is accused of sending inappropriate electronic communications of a sexual nature to an underage altar server at the parish. According to the Diocese of Oakland, the crime was reported to them by the child's parents on April 19, 2023, and the Diocese reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) the same day. The Diocese also contacted Marin Catholic High School on the 19th, informing administrators there of the accusations.
We commend this family for taking the initiative to report Mr. Chavez. However, we are troubled that the Oakland Diocese did not immediately call law enforcement. CPS is not there to investigate crimes, and although this particular report ultimately found its way to the police, there was no reason to take this extra step. We are also troubled that the Diocese waited nearly a month before informing the parents of the other altar servers at the church, as well as its parishioners, of the accusations.
Moreover, as far as we can tell, there has been absolutely no outreach to the wider Oakland community. We think that Bishop Michael Barber should visit every church or school where Mr. Chavez volunteered or worked in the Diocese and beg anyone who may have experienced, witnessed, or suspected criminal behavior to immediately make a report to the police. Additional testimony or other evidence could provide secular investigators with exactly what they need to make sure Mr. Chavez is never again able to target children in a Catholic church, or anywhere else. In addition, the sooner victims are found and validated, the sooner their healing journey can begin.
As mentioned above, Mr. Chavez was a theology teacher at Marin Catholic High School. He even was preparing to chaperone up to 20 Marin Catholic students to Portugal for World Catholic Youth Day in August. The response to the accusations from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which runs Marin Catholic, has been even worse than that of the Oakland Diocese. Apparently, no outreach was done to the school community at all until after the administrators were contacted by NBC Bay Area. The letter to parents from the Office of Communications of the Archdiocese is dated June 6th.
That letter relays that Mr. Chavez was put on administrative leave on April 19th, the same day that the school learned of the accusations and that he subsequently resigned from his position. However, it is unclear when he was replaced as the chaperone for the Portugal trip. The San Francisco Archdiocese also asserted that an administrative investigation was conducted at Marin Catholic and completed with "no local findings."
We question why the accusations were not instead immediately reported to law enforcement in Marin. The police have more investigative tools at their disposal than are available to administrators at a Catholic High School, including accessing cell phone records. We think at this point the Marin County DA should step in and investigate both Mr. Chavez's actions at the school, as well as the school's response to the accusations. Mr. Chavez was a core curriculum teacher to students at the school, no doubt met with high schoolers one-on-one and was planning a trip to Europe with some of those children. Given the accusations out of Oakland, there seems to us to be ample reasons to involve the police. The response from the school also raises our concerns that there was an effort to cover up the accusations, rather than to ascertain that no students were harmed.
As we urged the Diocese of Oakland, the San Francisco Archdiocese should also plead with all Marin Catholic students, their families, faculty, and administrators to come forward if anyone has information concerning the accusations and instruct them to make an immediate report to law enforcement. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone should also visit every church or school where Mr. Chavez volunteered or worked in his Archdiocese and reiterate this message. Additional testimony or evidence could support a second set of charges. In addition, it would start any victims on the path to recovery.
The Catholic Church constantly maintains that their response to abuse has changed since 2002. However, the actions of the Diocese of Oakland and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the wake of the accusations against Mr. Chavez, tell us that the Church still focuses its efforts on damage control and limiting liability, rather than ministering to the victims of sexual crimes that occur in their parishes and schools.
Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected] 267-261-0578) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for more than 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)