A former Roman Catholic priest said San Diego church officials transferred him to other parishes after parishioners complained that he had molested altar boys and other youth in the 1970s, according to newly filed court documents.
Edward Anthony Rodrigue was convicted in 1979 of sexually assaulting two boys in Ontario. Rodrigue made the statements in a court declaration at Corcoran state prison, where he is serving 10 years on a second molestation conviction.
The declaration, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, supports one of the main allegations in the clergy sexual abuse scandal: that bishops knew priests were molesting children, but covered up by shifting them elsewhere.
"There is overwhelming evidence that the church was well aware of the sexual misconduct of these priests," said Raymond P. Boucher, lead attorney for hundreds of people who are suing the church.
Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who is representing the San Diego diocese in this case, said he did not know whether officials covered up for those priests. The issue, he said, is whether the church can properly investigate claims after so many years.
"We will concede that it is evidence," he said of the declaration. "The passage of time, however, pretty well eradicates evidence that will either help us understand or explain it."
Boucher and other lawyers presented the declaration in opposition to an effort by attorneys for the church to overturn the state law that allowed 1,000 Californians to sue the church.
Church lawyers also say that the law unfairly singles out the Catholic Church, and that old insurance policies will not cover the plaintiffs' multimillion-dollar demands.
Boucher said Rodrigue's declaration and three other cases clearly demonstrate that old claims can still be probed.
"We're not contending that it's impossible," Hennigan said. "Do I have to take the word of a convicted felon?"
Two state court judges have upheld the state law's constitutionality against similar challenges. An Oakland judge, though, said constitutionality must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Another challenge was dismissed when the case was settled out of court.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is not directly involved in the San Diego case, which was brought by Sisters of the Precious Blood religious order and the San Diego diocese. But Hennigan, Mahony's lead counsel in the clergy abuse litigation, said the cardinal was supporting the challenge.
"He obviously offered moral support and my services," the lawyer said, adding that it was unclear which diocese would pay him. "If we prevail, we hope this is the beginning of the end of this law."
But a victory would not affect the 544 claims against the Los Angeles Archdiocese, unless upheld by a higher court. Hennigan said the archdiocese is still trying to settle those claims.
In the new documents, Rodrigue said 10 parents complained in 1976 that he was molesting altar boys at an El Centro parish. Leo Maher, the bishop of the San Diego diocese, sent him to the House of Affirmation in Massachusetts, a residential treatment program for troubled priests, for a psychological evaluation. But while awaiting a bed, he was reassigned to Our Lady of Soledad parish in Coachella, Rodrigue said in the document.
In 1979, Rodrigue said, while assigned to Ontario's St. George parish in the newly created San Bernardino diocese, he told a colleague that a student had seduced him. He was given a six-week vacation and ordered into therapy, he said. Rodrigue also was convicted of molesting two boys in 1979 and, while on probation for that conviction, was moved to St. Joseph the Worker parish in Loma Linda three years later. He stayed in ministry until 1991.
Maher died in 1991.
Boucher also filed a declaration by a former Holtville, Calif., police officer who said he arrested Father John Joseph Daly in 1977, after a 16-year-old hitchhiker alleged that the priest had orally copulated him as he slept.
The former officer, Walter Dutton, said in a signed statement that he was informed that then-Bishop Maher met with the district attorney and offered to transfer the priest out of the county if the case was dropped. The case was never prosecuted, and Daly was transferred from Holtville to San Bernardino County, Dutton said.
Hennigan said that allegation "sounds preposterous."