Report: At least 64 East Bay clergy accused of abuse since 1950

The Associated Press/March 31, 2008

Oakland, California - At least 64 Roman Catholic clergy members have been accused of molesting children in Alameda and Contra Costa counties since 1950-far more than the diocese has publicly acknowledged-and nearly two dozen of them continue to serve in churches, according to published reports.

The alleged abuse spanned at least 26 parishes and six high schools in the East Bay, nearly three-quarters of the parishes in the Diocese of Oakland, according to reports published this week by local MediaNews Group newspapers, which analyzed court and church records.

Since 2004, Bishop Allen Vigneron has publicly apologized for 12.

The newspapers said Vigneron went on an apology tour of sorts from 2004 to 2006, visiting 20 parishes and naming 12 priests, but does not explain why he did not identify more.

Another former bishop, John Cummins, said of publicly identifying priests: "I don't think that's the approach we took."

"What we did do is invite those who were victims, and especially in those parishes, to please come forward if they felt that that was what they wished."

Diocese officials say there have been no reports of abuse by priests stemming from abuse incidents in the past six years.

"We work daily and remain committed to keeping our parishes, schools and other Catholic institutions safe environments for children and all people," the diocese's chancellor Sister Glenn Anne McPhee said in a statement to the newspapers. Advertisement

Some of the most powerful priests in the diocese, including a former chancellor and vicar general; a former schools superintendent; and two former deans responsible for supervising southern Alameda County were accused of abuse. One of the deans investigated child molestation allegations against the other, the newspapers found in its search of court and church records.

Police investigated accusations against at least five priests from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s after parents or neighbors reported abuse, but none of the priests served prison time, the newspapers found. At least two accused priests and 19 other members of affiliated religious orders remain at church facilities, most of them in the San Francisco Bay area.

For decades, many accused clergy members were ordered to seek counseling or other treatment, and then were shuffled to multiple parishes for decades, but were not reported to law enforcement or removed from the ministry, the report said. Diocese officials did not contact police about the allegations until such reporting became required by law in 1997.

"It wasn't our practice" to report accused priests to law enforcement, the Rev. George Crespin, a former chancellor who was in charge of clergy personnel from 1979 to 1987, testified in a 2005 deposition. "That wasn't what we did."

Even on the handful of occasions when parents and neighbors reported abuse to police in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the cases were resolved without the priests serving jail time.

"The people in our office had very good associations with district attorneys' offices by and large," Cummins testified in a deposition the same year. "It was kind of a mutual collaboration, which I think was a very healthy relationship."

"Healthy for whom?" plaintiffs' attorney Jeffrey Anderson asked in the deposition.

"For the association of the diocese and the district attorneys or the police, and then I think for the managing of the situation," Cummins replied.

Diocese officials say their procedures today are vastly improved, and that they are committed to cooperating with authorities and preventing abuse. Priests who have been credibly accused now are immediately placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.

The diocese was audited by the Gavin Group of Boston in November and found to be in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, standards that were issued by bishops in 2002.

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