Washington Hospital Chaplain Suspended by Bishop after Internal Investigation, SNAP Calls for Transparency and Law Enforcement Involvement
Yet another Catholic priest has been removed from his position in Oakland following allegations of abuse, the fifth in recent years. Now, we call for a detailed explanation from Diocesan officials regarding the allegations against the cleric. We also urge local law enforcement to get involved to secure the needed transparency that will better protect Oakland children and vulnerable adults.
As the latest clergyman from Oakland to face abuse allegations, Fr. Jeffrey Finley joins the list that includes Fr. Alexander Castillo, who fled while being investigated by police, Fr. Hector David Vela (AKA Hector David Mendoza-Vela), who is now incarcerated, Fr. Varghese Alengadan (Fr. George), who failed to appear for his arraignment, and Fr. Michael Van Dinh, who was accused of a rape which was just recently the subject of a $3.5 million settlement.
These five have been exposed despite a 2019 statement by Bishop Michael Barber that “There has been no credible incident of abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon of the Diocese of Oakland since 1988." Obviously, Bishop Barber was gravely mistaken, and we call on him to not only retract this falsehood but to also focus on the reality that the Oakland diocese has a current sexual abuse problem. In addition, we urge him to bring in outside investigators who can help to identify perpetrators and to root out bad actors and enablers.
Fr. Finely is described by the bishop as being accused of "boundary violations," an example of sanitizing language that is torn from the Catholic Bishops’ "playbook" for dealing with abuse. Because there was a victim who complained, and the "violations" were apparently sexual in nature, we think that it is possible that what Fr. Finely has been accused of could be considered a crime if investigated by law enforcement. This leads us to an important question: was this "boundary violation" reported to the police?
Washington Hospital is a secular community hospital that serves tens of thousands of patients. The patient and stakeholder population is vulnerable, not only because patients in the hospital are sick, but also because their families are worried or grieving. In the palliative care unit, family and patients are certainly grieving and vulnerable - an abusive priest in such a situation could easily exploit that state of mind for his own ends.
Fr. Finley's work history, and Bishop Barber's description of his history, is troubling and raises red flags. The Bishop says that since 2015, the priest has worked at Washington Hospital as a "civilian" in the palliative care unit. That sounds like he was a chaplain for those who are grieving and dying. How can a clergyman work in a Bishop's diocese as a "civilian?" Did Fr. Finley not wear his collar? Was he ordered, in 2015, to not wear his collar? If so, why? More to the point, if Fr. Finley was a fill-in priest in the Diocese from 2011 until his suspension, as Bishop Barber wrote, how could he be seen as a civilian by the Bishop? And why did his own religious order refer to him as “hospital chaplain” in 2017?
We also note that Fr. Finley apparently lied to the parish at Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City just last week, another red flag. His resignation letter, read by the parish priest, “misled parishioners regarding the reason for Father Finley’s absence from the altar,” according to Bishop Barber. Fr. Finley's statement must not have said anything about having been suspended for sexual assault or "boundary violations" after an internal, three-month Diocesan investigation. If Fr. Finley can lie to his own parishioners, we wonder what else is he might misrepresent?
Something about the timing and context of Fr. Finley's suspension, as presented to the public, does not add up to us. We believe that the only way to get real answers about this situation, and that of other abusive priests in the Diocese, is with the outside involvement of the Alameda County District Attorney and the California Attorney General. We hope parents and parishioners in Oakland who are similarly disturbed by this news will join our call.
We also urge Bishop Barber to finally update his list of accused clerics, a list that is currently woefully incomplete. At a minimum, it should be updated to include Fr. Finley, Fr. Castillo, and Fr. Van Dinh. The listing of these names will not only better inform the public but will also encourage any other victims to come forward and begin healing.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)