Oakland pastor -- a man of many guises

San Francisco Chronicle/April 5, 2004
By Chip Johnson

Oakland street minister Donald Weeks has been portrayed as both a saint who has healed drug addicts and a sinner cloaked in a robe and collar who sexually abused a boy, depending on whom you ask.

The Rev. Donald Weeks remains a mystery, even to some of the people who have supported him over the years.

To the two dozen men who lived at Weeks' Oakland halfway house, the minister was a big-hearted man who they say lavished Christian kindness on them. By his own description, Weeks is a humanitarian crusader who has put his life on the line to help others.

As a civil rights worker in the South in the 1960s, Weeks said he was stabbed by a member of the Ku Klux Klan and survived a car bombing and arson fire at his home. "I'm very proud of the things I've done in the past. But I'm also the type of person who is not afraid of anyone," he said in a March interview. "I fear only God."

Weeks' career as a humanitarian was officially suspended on Friday, when he was charged with 24 counts of having sex with a boy over a two-year period beginning in 1994. In the criminal complaint, authorities allege that the abuse began when the boy was 16.

The threads that held Weeks' life together began to unravel soon after he stepped into the fray surrounding Cary Verse, a convicted sexual predator who was released from a state mental hospital in Atascadero last month.

Weeks announced that he would take Verse in at St. Patrick's Abbey, a halfway house he ran on the 3700 block of East 12th Street for drug and alcohol abusers. The minister called Verse the most rehabilitated ex-con he had ever met.

Weeks' decision to stand up for Verse, who already had been forced out of a cheap motel in Mill Valley by angry residents and later was sent packing from a residence hotel in downtown Oakland, naturally drew media attention -- and eventually brought the thunder down on the reverend and St. Patrick's Abbey.

All of it for Verse's four-day stay at the facility, from March 11 to March 15.

The trouble began almost immediately after Weeks invited members of the media to tour the facility where Verse would be staying. Soon afterward, city officials began learning more about both Weeks and his halfway house.

City officials found code violations throughout the facility -- and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Shortly after Verse left the abbey for San Jose, there were rumblings about Weeks' authenticity as a legitimate member of the clergy, and an informant tipped off police about Weeks' alleged sexual misconduct with a minor.

On Tuesday, police arrested Weeks at the abbey, where they searched his living quarters and removed a computer hard drive, videotapes and personal items.

By week's end, one of the minister's former landlords claimed that Weeks had failed to pay him $23,000 in rent while Weeks collected money from recovering addicts at his halfway house. His failed ministry at another Oakland location came to light.

Next on the agenda was debunking Weeks' claim to be a legitimate member of the clergy. Authorities have stopped short of challenging his authenticity as a minister of the Old Catholic Church, which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church more than a century ago, but they question his claims of affiliation with the American Congregation of St. Benedict -- or whether the order even exists.

Weeks has told others connected with the case that the only hierarchy in his church organization is God himself.

"He should be able to answer that question,'' said the Rev. Robert Hale, a Roman Catholic priest and spirituality professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

And just for the record, there are no entries for the American Congregation of St. Benedict in either the Official Catholic Directory or the Dictionary of Religious Orders, said an official at the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of nine schools of theology representing the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.

A reference librarian said it was possible that such an obscure sect could exist among all the splintered sects of the Roman Catholic Church.

So it seems that even religious scholars are at a loss when it comes to providing some credibility for Weeks' brand of spirituality. The landscape of Weeks' business deals has not been much brighter.

St. Patrick's Abbey is Weeks' second attempt at establishing a ministry in Oakland. The first attempt was Holy Angels ministry on the 9400 block of International Boulevard.

He left there under a cloud of suspicion in 1999 after he became the focus of a TV news investigation that found he had received rent from clients staying at the shelter but had failed to make regular payments to the landlord.

Paul Gilmore, the owner of the property when Weeks lived there, recalled his attempts to collect some of the $23,000 in unpaid back rent and Weeks' reaction when confronted.

"He told me to get off the property and don't come back,'' said Gilmore, who said some of the tenants, primarily women recovering from drug addictions, suspected illegal drugs were being used at the ministry.

Police did find a pipe and a small amount of crack cocaine in Weeks' premises at the abbey.

The whole nine yards has led Gilmore to say what police who are investigating the allegations have been suspicious of all along.

"This guy is no reverend,'' Gilmore declared. "He's a phony. He does these things as much for himself as for others. He feeds off of the people he says he's helping.''

"I think that he's a con man, and that's all that he is,'' Gilmore said.

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