Oakland -- After months of refusing to reveal details about a group of elderly priests accused of sexually abusing young people, Dominican church leaders Thursday surprised many by releasing information about the men they insist are no threat to local children.
St. Albert's Priory, a residence for Catholic priests in Oakland's upscale Rockridge neighborhood, has for months faced mounting pressure from community leaders and neighbors to release details about the seven priests relocated to the priory and living within a few blocks of two elementary schools.
Church spokeswoman Carla Hass said church leaders heard the neighbors' concerns "loud and clear," but said public pressure was not the reason they decided to release the information.
"Rumor and innuendo are flying around faster than facts," Hass said.
The media has portrayed the residence as a haven for pedophiles, she said. "That is simply not true."
She said it is time to set the record straight and that the priory has no intention of taking in more priests with sexual accusations against them.
According to information released by the Rev. Roberto Corral, leader of the Western Dominican Province, which runs the seminary, the men are all elderly priests or brothers removed from their previous ministries because of credible accusations of past sexual misconduct with young people - usually teenage boys, although one priest was accused of fondling and engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with a teenage girl.
Complete details about six of the priests and the accusations are available on the province's Web site at www.opwest.org. A seventh priest has left the priory and his records are not included in the disclosure.
The friars were relocated to the Oakland residence because it was one of the few places in the Western Province not connected to a ministry where they would have regular institutional contact with the public, church leaders said.
The priests - now all over age 65 - can get the supervision and support they need at the priory. Relocating them there was a safer choice than expelling them from the Dominican order and leaving them unsupervised, church leaders said in their statement.
There are nine Dominican parishes and nine Newman Centers (churches attached to universities) in the WesternProvince, which comprises Alaska, Oregon and Arizona and has 150 friars. But despite the new information, some neighbors and community leaders are continuing to question how safe it is for the community to have the men living in their midst.
Vice Mayor Jane Brunner, who was instrumental in organizing a community meeting about the issue in December, said the new details will open up dialogue between the Dominicans and the community.
"I'm glad that they released it, because now we can have a serious conversation about whether it is appropriate for these people to be in an urban community," she said.
But neighbor Annette Floystrup said the information released by the Dominicans is too little, too late.
"It's really a shame they couldn't have been this forthcoming to begin with," she said.
She feels church leaders misled the community in its previous meetings by "soft-pedaling" some of the more egregious claims against the priests.
Church leaders claim the men - with the exception of one who fled the residence in February - have all had years of therapy and that their indiscretions were more situational - born out of some kind of relationship - rather than chronic and random. None of the men now has contact with youth, the church said.
But Floystrup isn't buying it.
Who is to say that the men couldn't redirect their attention to neighborhood children with whom they might have some kind of daily exposure, she asked. By withholding information from neighbors for so long the Dominicans have created an environment of distrust in the community by withholding details, she said.
Floystrup now questions the church's ability to appropriately supervise - nevermind rehabilitate - the priests.
"They have raised more questions than they have answered," she said.