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D.A. Studies Church Files in San Diego

Probe: Catholic bishop promises to turn over all records of complaints of sexual abuse made against priests dating to 1936, when the diocese was founded.

July 04, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — At the request of local prosecutors, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has agreed to turn over records of complaints about sexual abuse by priests dating to the founding of the diocese in 1936.

Bishop Robert H. Brom has pledged "100% cooperation" with prosecutors. In a letter to parishioners, Brom said: "Rooted in prayer and united in faith, we must work together to overcome the scourge of sexual abuse, not only in the church but also in the family and in all sectors of society."

Dist. Atty. Paul Pfingst has assigned three prosecutors and an investigator to review complaints against priests. So far, allegations against 18 priests in San Diego and five in Imperial County dating to 1990 have been turned over.

"I think it's not beyond reason that there may be active criminal investigations coming out of this," Pfingst said Wednesday.

In exchange for cooperation from the diocese, Pfingst has pledged that names of victims will be made public only if criminal charges are filed. In many cases, he said, victims went to church officials with the assurance of confidentiality.

"This is a very serious psychological business of reviving memories of past child abuse," Pfingst said.

Although some of the cases occurred years ago, prosecution is possible because the normal three- to five-year statute of limitations begins only after police are notified, Pfingst said.

In the three-county Los Angeles Archdiocese, authorities are reviewing complaints against more than 50 current and former priests dating to the 1960s.

In response to the growing national scandal, Brom, bishop of San Diego since 1990, has said that a committee composed primarily of laity will be involved in issues of providing medical and counseling services to victims of abuse by priests.

In the past, such decisions were made by the diocesan financial officer, with little outside oversight. Under new guidelines approved by the nation's Catholic bishops in June, each diocese is required to assemble a board with substantial numbers of lay members to review accusations of molestation.

900,000 Catholics

The San Diego diocese has 900,000 Catholics and 98 parishes in San Diego and Imperial counties.

In a related action, Msgr. Steven Callahan, chancellor of the diocese, announced on Wednesday that $250,000 was paid to an abuse victim in December. The payout consisted of $100,000 from the estate of a deceased priest, $75,000 from insurance, and $75,000 in diocese funds.

The case involved allegations by a 50-year-old man that he was molested by Msgr. William Kraft when he was 17 and had suffered decades of psychological torment.

When Brom learned of the man's complaint, he arranged a "healing" confrontation between the man and Kraft, who was then in a hospice. Brom authorized the payment, although no lawsuit was filed.

Kraft died in September at age 75 after 40 years as a San Diego priest. He had served as director of public relations for the diocese from 1956 to 1963 and director of cemeteries from 1964 to 1970. The victim worked at a Catholic cemetery when the alleged incident occurred.

Brom is currently serving as chairman of a committee formed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to monitor compliance by bishops with the council's new policy on reporting allegations of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

Rare News Conference

A week ago, the normally media-shy Brom called a news conference to announce that since he took control of the diocese, 23 complaints of abuse had been made against priests and that "slightly less" than $200,000 has been paid by the diocese to victims in that time.

Wednesday's fuller accounting by Callahan, however, indicates that in compiling that figure, Brom included only the $75,000 in the Kraft case settlement that came directly from diocese funds--not the amounts paid from Kraft's estate and the insurance company.

Of the 23 complaints made during Brom's tenure, only four were made against priests who were still working in the diocese, the bishop said.

"The conclusion was reached that three of them should no longer be in ministry and they are not," Brom wrote in a letter to parishioners. "The one remaining case is under investigation."

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