Diocese of Oakland priest accused of child sexual abuse in a current lawsuit still in ministry in Orinda

For immediate release July 1, 2023

Diocese of Oakland priest accused of child sexual abuse in a current lawsuit still in ministry in Orinda

As far as SNAP can tell, the faithful were never alerted and the cleric was never suspended

Survivors’ group wonders why the promises of the Dallas Charter were ignored?

Victims and advocates urge Bishop Michael Barber to be transparent with the parishioners of his Diocese and the public and explain why this happened

WHAT: Holding signs at a sidewalk news conference, clergy sex abuse victims and advocates will:

-- Discuss whether the failure of the Diocese of Oakland to remove an accused priest from ministry while the claim is still pending, along with the recent motion in bankruptcy court to hide the names of those sued in the civil window, is part of a deliberate strategy to keep information about child sexual abuse secret;

-- Urge Bishop Michael Barber to come clean to the parishioners in his Diocese and to the public and let them know that a priest has been accused of child sexual abuse in a recently filed lawsuit; and

-- Ask the faithful to ponder what it means that the provisions of the Dallas Charter do not seem to have been followed in this case, and to consider how best to respond to this knowledge.

WHEN: July 2, 2023, at 9:30 AM

WHERE: On the public sidewalk by the Santa Maria Parish parking lot entrance, adjacent to the parking area for the Orinda Police Station. Santa Maria is located at 40 Santa Maria Way, Orinda.

WHO: 4 to 5 clergy abuse victims and advocates, including survivors from the Oakland Diocese

WHY: A Diocese of Oakland priest has been accused of child sexual abuse in a recently filed lawsuit. Shockingly, the clergyman, Fr. George Mockel, appears to have never been removed as the pastor of Santa Maria Church in Orinda.

In the wake of the Boston Globe stories on abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston, the Catholic bishops in the United States promised “zero tolerance” for child sex crimes committed in their churches and schools. Yet, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has been unable to find that Fr. Mockel was ever suspended from ministry pending an investigation, as promised in the 2002 Dallas Charter.

Oakland Bishop Michael Barber claimed in a statement that he directed a former federal prosecutor to conduct an internal investigation, which found the allegations against Fr. Mockel “were not credible.” On that basis, the priest continues to have the Bishop’s support. However, SNAP wonders how thorough an investigation was performed since, as far as it can tell, there was no notification and outreach to all the communities where Fr. Mockel had worked?

The survivors’ group does not have first hand knowledge about the accusations against Fr. Mockel, although they know that he has denied them. However, they know that false allegations of sexual abuse are extremely rare, and that it is extremely difficult to be the first to accuse a respected and powerful cleric. It seems to them that for the protection of all the boys and girls who attend Santa Maria, the cleric should have been immediately removed from his position when the Diocese first learned of the allegations, and that this removal should continue until the claim is resolved. Moreover, SNAP also knows that internal review boards have "cleared" other accused clergymen only to have additional information come out down the road.

One example is the case of Fr. Eric Swearingen. The priest was placed on leave briefly after he was accused of child sexual abuse in a 2006 lawsuit. The Diocese of Fresno subsequently deemed the allegation "not credible," and Fr. Swearingen was allowed to return to ministry. Ultimately the clergyman was added to Fresno’s list of accused priests.

Similarly, Fr. Daniel Carter of the Archdiocese of San Francisco was briefly removed from ministry in 2002, in the wake of a police report and a lawsuit. However, the review board reached a decision of “inconclusive,” on the accusation, and the priest remained in parishes for almost another 20 years. Fr. Carter faces six additional lawsuits in this civil window, filed by people who say he sexually assaulted them when they were boys and girls.

There is another example from the Diocese of Oakland itself. Fr. George Crespin was suspended in 2005, but regained his faculties after the review board found the evidence "insufficient to support the allegation.” In this case, the community was informed of the accusations, although like Fr. Mockel, Fr. Crespin denied the claims. The priest worked as Vicar General, as well as Chancellor, of the Diocese from 1979 to 1994. So far, Fr. Crespin faces three new lawsuits in this window.

SNAP wonders why the 2002 promises of transparency were ignored by Bishop Michael Barber? It urges him to come clean to the parishioners in Orinda, and in all the parishes where Fr. Mockel worked. The Bishop should visit each of these churches and beg anyone with information to come forward and make a report to law enforcement. It seems to survivors and advocates that this is the only way to fulfill the 2002 promise of openness.

The group cannot help but wonder whether the decision to keep the accusations against Fr. Mockel secret are part of the same strategy that had the Diocese ask the federal bankruptcy court to keep information about abusers and enablers “confidential.”  Fr. Mockel was for many years the Vicar General in Oakland, retiring in 2021. A vicar general is the highest official in a diocese after the bishop. It appears to SNAP that this may well be a deliberate strategy to flaunt the promises of 2002, and to hide possible crimes committed by those in positions of power in the Diocese.

Victims and advocates will urge the parishioners of Santa Maria and the other churches to ask questions about this situation. The Catholic faithful have a right to know if their bishop is paying lip service to transparency on the one hand, while keeping secrets just like in the old days before 2002. Those who attend these parishes should also consider what their response should be to the information that policies and promises appear to have been ignored.

SNAP is aware of 265 priests, brothers, nuns, and employees accused of sexually abusing children in the Diocese of Oakland. Fifty-two of those names were only revealed in lawsuits filed in the recently closed civil window. More new names may yet be revealed, as not all of those actions have been made public.

According to the survivors’ group, eight clerics accused of abusing children have worked at Santa Maria over the years, and one accused of abusing adults. Those nine men spent a total of thirty-three years at the parish.

CONTACT: Joey Piscitelli, SNAP Volunteer Northwest Leader ([email protected], 925-262-3699), Dan McNevin, Treasurer, SNAP Board of Directors ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175),  Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, President, SNAP Board of Directors ([email protected], 814- 341-8386) 

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org.)

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant