US bishop resigns after alleged paedophile flees

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday accepted the resignation of a US bishop accused of allowing an alleged paedophile priest from his diocese to flee to Mexico, as the Vatican takes action on abuses.

Bishop Daniel Walsh of the diocese of Santa Rosa in California resigned under an article in Catholic Church law invoking a “grave cause”, which can include a failure by the prelate in question to denounce a case of paedophilia.

Walsh, 74, is one year younger than the minimum retirement age for bishops.

Benedict last year called for a zero tolerance approach to child abuse by clergymen and called on bishops to work together with local law enforcement, following thousands of paedophile scandals across Europe and the United States.

Father Xavier Ochoa admitted to the bishop in April 2006 that he had abused young boys but the police were only told three days later by a diocesan lawyer.

By that time, Ochoa had fled to Mexico where he is still at large.

The diocese was ordered to pay five million dollars (3.5 million euros) to the three victims, as well as 20,000 dollars from Walsh personally.

The alleged acts committed by Ochoa included rape and forced oral sex.

Priest apologises for abusing parishioner

A 79-year-old Catholic priest has apologised in court to a former parishioner for the ‘torture’ of sexual abuse he subjected her to over a number of years.

Paul McGennis had pleaded guilty to eight sample counts of sexual abuse against the young girl in the 1980s.

The abuse began when she was aged ten and continued for a number of years.

The victim said she lived in fear of the priest who threatened that her family would be expelled from the church if she told anyone.

The abuse took place in the priest’s house at a Dublin City Centre parish and continued after he moved to another parish in Dublin.

The victim said he would give her sweets and toys in the early days of the abuse.

In later years, he gave her money after having sex. In statements to gardaí, she said the abuse continued because she was a child and was scared.

She said she would run errands for the priest and the abuse began one day when she was late returning from an errand and he ‘gave out’ to her. It then took place almost every fortnight in the bedroom of the parish house and in a waiting room.

She said she would be admitted to the house by a housekeeper who was often present in the house, although not in the room, while the abuse took place.

Throughout the abuse she would cry and ask him to stop but he continued, she said. She did not tell her family because she thought she would be ‘battered’ and was afraid to bring shame on them.

She complained to gardaí a number of years ago after receiving counselling following a suicide attempt.

When interviewed by gardaí in 2009, McGennis denied the allegations. He pleaded guilty earlier this year.

At the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last Friday, McGennis apologised to the victim and her family for the ‘stress and torture I have put them through and for the fact that my initial denials must have made it worse’.

In her victim impact statement, the victim said she would serve a sentence until the day she dies because of the abuse.

She said she lived in fear of seeing her abuser who had ‘taken away my innocence, my childhood memories, my chance of an education and my prospects for the future.’

It continued to threaten her marriage and denied her the chance to have children, she said. It left her without self esteem or the ability to form and maintain relationships. As a teenager she engaged in destructive behaviour.

Lawyers for Paul McGennis said his remorse and apology were genuine and said he was at low risk of reoffending. They asked the judge to take into account his age and medical condition when considering sentence.

The court was told he now lives at a diocesan centre at Clonliffe College and is living under a direction from the archbishop which governs his ministry and his contact with young people.

He has previous convictions for indecent assault and has served a prison sentence.

He is also co-operating with garda investigation launched as a result of the Murphy Report but Judge Desmond Hogan said that was not related to the current charges.

Judge Desmond Hogan said he needed time to consider the victim impact statement, along with medical and psychological reports submitted by the defence, and adjourned sentence to 29 July next.

Bishop Retires, exhausted from dealing with clergy abuse cases

Bishop Walsh retires; Bishop Vasa takes over in Santa Rosa

Just six months after being named coadjutor, Bishop Robert Vasa has become Bishop of Santa Rosa. The Vatican announced yesterday it had accepted the resignation of Bishop Daniel Walsh even though he has yet to reach the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Bishop Vasa, 60, formerly Bishop of Baker, Oregon, has developed a reputation as tough and outspoken defender of Catholic orthodoxy. When Bishop Vasa was named coadjutor of Santa Rosa on Jan. 24, Bishop Walsh, who has led the see since 2000, told a local newspaper he would likely retire within a year.

In a February letter to the diocesan faithful, Bishop Walsh, 73, said he had been seeking a replacement for several years. “On October 8, 2008, I wrote to the Apostolic Nuncio to suggest that the time had come to appoint a new bishop to lead the Diocese of Santa Rosa,” wrote Bishop Walsh. “I mentioned in that letter my reasons, particularly that I had accomplished all that I could here in the Diocese and that I was exhausted from dealing with the clergy abuse cases that had arisen over the years.”

“In response to that letter Archbishop Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio, phoned me and said he would forward my request to the Congregation of Bishops which decides such matters,” said Bishop Walsh. “I received a letter dated December17, 2008 informing me that the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Re, had determined that I should carry on as Bishop of Santa Rosa. The Apostolic Nuncio mentioned that in the future he would do his best to obtain a Coadjutor for the Diocese.”

“I let the matter rest until November 29, 2010 when the Apostolic Nuncio phoned me and told me that the new Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, had reviewed my file and suggested that I write to the Holy Father to ask for a Coadjutor,” Bishop Walsh continued in his February letter. “I followed this suggestion and wrote to the Holy Father on December 5, 2010. On Tuesday, January 11, 2011, Archbishop Sambi phoned me to announce that Bishop Vasa of Baker City, Oregon had been appointed Coadjutor for the Diocese of Santa Rosa. This was confirmed by a letter dated January 18, 2011. The announcement of the appointment was scheduled for January 24, 2011 when you were all informed.”

Bishop Vasa, who led the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, from 2000 until his Santa Rosa appointment, developed a national reputation for his orthodoxy and for his willingness to take decisive action.

“In more than a decade as spiritual leader of central and eastern Oregon’s Catholics, Bishop Vasa gained a national following for efforts to uphold Catholic teaching in the face of what he considered threats and laxity from inside and outside the church,” said a story posted Jan. 24 on the website of The Catholic Sentinel, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland. “He had lay ministers sign an oath of fidelity of Catholic teaching and erased the Catholic identity of a Bend hospital where doctors performed sterilizations. He criticized pro-choice Catholic politicians and once warned against a group of schismatics that denied the Second Vatican Council.”

In 2003, Bishop Vasa banned the dissident group Voice of the Faithful from meeting on any church property in the diocese. In a 2006 column discussing pro-abortion Catholic politicians, Bishop Vasa suggested they might be guilty of “the right-to-murder heresy.” He has long held that Catholic politicians who bring scandal to the faithful by supporting abortion should be denied Communion.

Bishop Vasa was also a prominent and outspoken critic of ‘Obamacare,’ calling it “fatally flawed” for failing to protect the unborn from government-funded abortions and because it did not include ‘conscience’ protections for healthcare providers.

In February 2010, Bishop Vasa announced that the diocese was ending its relationship with St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon, because the hospital continued to perform tubal ligations.

Bishop Vasa took up residence in the Diocese of Santa Rosa on March 4. Bishop Walsh has said he will retire to St. Anne’s Rectory in San Francisco, his home parish.

In announcing that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted Bishop Walsh’s resignation, the Vatican Information Service said the Holy Father had done so “in accordance with canon 401 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law.” That provision of Canon Law says, “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”

Church still not aiding child sex abuse audit

SENIOR FIGURES in the Catholic Church are still not co-operating with its own child protection watchdog, despite assurances from the Data Protection Commissioner that in doing so they would not be acting illegally.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children is conducting an audit of child protection practices in church institutions, announced at an emergency meeting of the bishops by Cardinal Seán Brady in January 2009.

A spokesman for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner said legal concerns expressed by the Catholic Church regarding its co-operation with the board “were fully addressed to the satisfaction of all parties” at a meeting last November.

That meeting was attended by representatives of the Catholic bishops, the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori), the Irish Missionary Union and representatives of the board.

He said it was pointed out then “that there are no obstacles” to the board “having full access to all relevant personal data for the purpose of comprehensive audits of the church bodies concerned”.

He also noted that on September 17th last, representatives of his office met separately with the board and Faoiseamh, a counselling service set up by Cori, to discuss data protection issues on the matter.

Despite that the bishops, Cori and the missionary union sought the meeting which took place last November at which assurances were repeated.

Quoting from the Data Protection Commissioner’s annual report for 2010, the spokesman said “we were contacted in early 2010 by the National Board for Safeguarding Children regarding data protection considerations associated with accessing personal data held by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.”

“We were advised that an auditing exercise had commenced in line with the functions of the board. However, shortly after the evaluation process began, data protection issues were raised. As a result, the audit process was suspended pending clarification and assistance from our office.

“We were asked to assist in finding a data protection compliant mechanism to allow the board to assess the church’s current policies and practices on the safeguarding of children and to ensure that allegations of abuse were handled appropriately.”

Last month, in its annual report for 2010, the board chairman John Morgan said its sponsoring bodies (the bishops, Cori and the missionary union) “still have unresolved data protection issues pertaining to ongoing contact situations between the board/national office and dioceses and religious congregations which take place regularly outside a formal review process.”

It is understood this remains the position.

Some bishops have co-operated fully with the board. At that launch last month it was disclosed that three unnamed dioceses co-operated fully with the board in its audit on each.

Cardinal Brady’s announcement of the audit followed an emergency meeting of the Catholic bishops on January 23rd, 2009. It followed revelations in a report by the board, published the previous month, that child protection practices in Cloyne diocese were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”.

That led to the remit of the Murphy commission being extended by the previous government to include Cloyne.

The commission’s report on Cloyne was submitted in December to the then minister for justice Dermot Ahern and has yet to be published.

Despite priest’s dark past, he was given ample time to find new victims

Early in 2001, a young priest arrived in Southern California after being asked to leave his diocese near Rome.

The Rev. Fernando Lopez Lopez first went to the San Bernardino diocese, where a monsignor found it odd that he would show up unannounced, with no letter of explanation from his bishop.

The monsignor checked with church officials in Italy and was told Lopez Lopez had been asked to leave his post. When the monsignor confronted Lopez Lopez with this information, the priest admitted he had been asked to leave because of complaints from parishioners in Tivoli that he was involved in drug activity with young men in the church. There were also reports the priest was “homosexually involved with some of the young men of the youth group.” Lopez Lopez denied the allegations and also said the youths in question were over 18.

The monsignor in San Bernardino refused to assign the priest to duties in the diocese and suggested he go back to Italy. Instead, Rev. Lopez Lopez headed farther west and decided to try his luck with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

This time, even as L.A. church officials were trying to stem a spreading sexual abuse scandal, he wasn’t met with the same level of suspicion and didn’t admit to his past. And for unknown reasons, the same Italian bishop who told San Bernardino that Lopez Lopez had been asked to leave, this time signed a form for the L.A. Archdiocese indicating there were no problems in the priest’s past.

Rev. Lopez Lopez got the job and was assigned to St. Thomas the Apostle near Koreatown, where he was routinely in contact with minors. It was there, over the next three years, that he repeatedly molested three teenagers, including two minors. He was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to prison, then deported upon his release to his home country of Colombia.

All this bubbles back up now for two reasons. First, a lawsuit against the priest, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and the archdiocese is scheduled to be heard in October. And second, “Dan Rather Reports” aired an investigative piece Tuesday night claiming that Lopez Lopez had an even darker past than was previously known.

Rather reported that according to an Italian court official, Lopez Lopez pleaded guilty in 2000 to “repeated sexual violence on a minor.”

If true, it’s morally shocking that such a priest would have been allowed to stay in ministry, but not surprising. If anything has been more reprehensible than the decades of sexual abuse by priests, it has been the attempts by the Catholic church to shuffle pedophiles to new parishes and cover up as much of the mess as possible.

So Rev. Lopez Lopez ends up in California, where he seemed to have no trouble finding new victims.

Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, speaking for Mahony and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, argues that his clients did no wrong and said they tried to check on Lopez Lopez’s past. But even if you give them a pass for not being as suspicious as the monsignor in San Bernardino, there’s another little bombshell in this story.

The San Bernardino monsignor, Gerard Lopez, sent a letter to one of Mahony’s key deputies on Jan. 8, 2004, after learning that the same priest he turned away in 2001 had been working in Los Angeles. The monsignor warned L.A.’s vicar of clergy about what he had learned of the priest’s background.

But it wasn’t until nine weeks after the letter was sent to Los Angeles that Mahony’s staff sent a letter to the bishop in Tivoli, asking about Lopez Lopez.

“If your Excellency would be so disposed, may we inquire as to whether there are any issues … that would cast any shadow of doubt upon Father Lopez’s priestly integrity and ministry while serving in the Diocese of Tivoli?”

Would his Excellency be so disposed?

Why are church officials so sickeningly polite with each other about the business of children being abused?

How about picking up the phone, instead of sending a letter to Italy, and demanding an immediate explanation?

How about calling the pope?

And how about yanking Lopez Lopez out of the ministry immediately when a warning letter arrives from San Bernardino, until the entire matter is settled?

Hennigan tells me there was nothing to go on but unsubstantiated allegations involving people 18 or over. He said church officials questioned the principal at St. Thomas and also Lopez Lopez, who suggested the monsignor in San Bernardino had misunderstood him regarding what happened in Tivoli. Hennigan also said the church immediately removed Lopez Lopez from ministry when it received an allegation that the priest had molested a kid, and church officials called the police too. That was on July 13, 2004.

The half a year between the arrival of the letter from San Bernardino and the removal of Lopez Lopez is when “some of the worst of the abuse took place,” said Vince Finaldi, the attorney who represents the unnamed victim who has sued the church.

When Lopez Lopez was convicted in 2005 of four felony counts of lewd acts with a child and one felony count of sexual battery, among other counts, Cardinal Mahony wrote a letter to the Vatican suggesting it might be a good idea to dismiss him from the priesthood.

Mahony, never shy about polishing his own image, specified in the letter that Lopez Lopez certainly wouldn’t have been hired in Los Angeles if Tivoli had mentioned his past. Mahony told the Vatican the church’s investigation of Lopez Lopez “began promptly following the initial accusation” of abuse.

Yes, and it took only six months after the letter from San Bernardino to get him away from children.