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Accused Priest Blames Cultural Differences

Crime: The Pomona clergyman alleged to have molested two girls acknowledges wrestling with them but says such contact is common among Filipinos.

April 25, 2002|RICHARD WINTON and GENE MADDAUS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Pomona priest in jail on suspicion of molesting two girls said Wednesday that the allegations stem from a cultural misunderstanding.

Honesto Bismonte, 72, of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, was arrested Tuesday for allegedly molesting the girls about 50 times since 1997, when they were 8 and 12.

Speaking from the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, Bismonte said that hugging and physical contact with children is far more accepted in his Filipino culture. "I'm sorry this has come this far," he said, blaming the wave of current allegations against priests for his plight.

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives also are investigating Father Patrick Cotter, 70, a retired priest who once worked at St. Joseph's. He allegedly was involved with a girl there several years ago, sources said, an accusation referred from the Los Angeles Police Department. Cotter, of South Pasadena, did not return telephone calls for comment. An archdiocese spokesman said Cotter is retired and not attached to any parish.

The probe of Cotter is one of several investigations of clergy being conducted by the sheriff's family crimes unit.

Detectives said they have expanded their probe of Father David Granadino, 46, from the time he has worked at St. Frances of Rome in Azusa, where he now is pastor, to his former church, St. John of God in Norwalk.

"There are several adult males who have reported being molested by Granadino at the Norwalk church when they were kids more than 15 years ago," said Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott.

Detectives have interviewed more than 100 children and parents since a March 22 call to the Los Angeles archdiocese hotline, which was created to report sexual abuse allegations. Scott said detectives know of as many as five allegations of "inappropriate touching" by Granadino during church activities at the Azusa parish. Granadino, a Sheriff's Department chaplain, has denied any misconduct, according to an exchange of e-mails by top archdiocese officials.

Meanwhile, in Rancho Cucamonga, Bismonte remains in jail in lieu of $200,000 bail as the San Bernardino County district attorney decides whether to press charges.

Bismonte acknowledged taking the girls to the park to play on the swings and said, "we used to wrestle." Fontana Police Sgt. Robert Beltran said the girls told detectives the priest touched them over and under their clothing. Bismonte shared an apartment in Fontana with the girls' aunt, who would frequently baby-sit the children, Beltran said. The girls said the touching stopped in 2001, according to Beltran, when Bismonte moved out of the apartment.

The girls initially withheld the information. "There was some hesitance on the part of the victims and the victims' mother, out of respect for the priest and the position he held," Beltran said.

Bismonte said he believed that the girls came forward because of publicity over abuse accusations against priests. "The plaintiffs' credibility is weak," he said.

In December 2000, Bismonte was assigned to St. Joseph's, which also operates a school. He served previously at St. Anthony of Padua in Gardena.

Beltran said the allegations were reported to a school official, who informed the county Department of Children and Family Services. Social workers contacted Fontana police.

Archdiocese officials learned of the allegations last week and put the priest on leave, said Tod Tamberg, an archdiocese spokesman.

Bismonte informed the archdiocese last week after the girls' family told the priest of the allegations, said Don Steier, Bismonte's attorney.

Fontana police detectives were still working on the case late Wednesday.

San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ben Gonzales, who oversees the Fontana office, said he did not expect the police reports to be filed until today.

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