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Priest on Leave Pending Sex Abuse Investigation

Scandal: Catholic parish learns its pastor is accused of molesting a teen 28 years ago. Police inquiry is underway.

June 12, 2002|RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Father Philip Kavanaugh, a Los Angeles priest known for his support of progressive causes, has been placed on leave pending a police investigation into allegations that he molested a teenager almost three decades ago.

Police said Tuesday that the abuse is alleged to have occurred in Los Angeles, but they would give no details. Kavanaugh is pastor at Precious Blood Church on Occidental Boulevard.

At the time of the alleged incident, he was assigned to the Cathedral Chapel on South La Brea Avenue, according to the official Catholic directory.

Kavanaugh is one of 34 current and former priests under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, officials there said.

"We are investigating each and every allegation. We take these allegations very seriously," said Lt. Daniel Mulrenin, head of the LAPD's Sexually Exploited Child Unit.

Since the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse by priests after a lawsuit settlement last year, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has placed Kavanaugh and what archdiocese officials say is a "handful" of other priests on leave while they are under suspicion.

For decades, priests facing such allegations were left in their rectories or sent away for therapy with little explanation to parishioners. The archdiocese now announces why Kavanaugh and other priests are absent from the pulpit and tells parishioners when a priest formerly assigned to their church is facing claims of sexual misconduct.

Msgr. Chris Cox, vicar of the clergy, told Precious Blood parishioners last month: "It is my sad duty to announce that we have received a report of an incident of inappropriate behavior with a teenager involving Philip Kavanaugh. The report involves an incident more than 25 years ago. Let me first ask that you keep him in your prayers. This is a very difficult time for him."

According to a copy of the statement provided by the archdiocese, Cox reminded parishioners that every accused person is innocent until there is proof to the contrary, but he said the church takes all such allegations seriously. He also said he wished he could provide more information, but he had to respect the rights of those involved.

Tod Tamberg, archdiocese spokesman, said the allegation against Kavanaugh was reported to the archdiocese hotline on sexual abuse.

Kavanaugh did not return telephone calls. In a statement read by Cox to parishioners, he said: "It is with great sadness that I must inform you that a report of inappropriate behavior on my part has been received by the archdiocese.

"The incident reportedly took place 28 years ago. Let me assure you I have not been a threat to young people at Precious Blood parish. However, due to the nature of the accusation, I must be put on administrative leave."

Kavanaugh apologized for any "embarrassment" this may cause parishioners and asked them "to have faith that in some mysterious way, God will ultimately bring great good out of this very painful time for us."

Ordained in 1973, Kavanaugh also has worked at Christ the King Church in Richland, Wash., St. Maria Goretti Church in Long Beach and San Roque Church in Santa Barbara.

As Precious Blood's pastor since 1996, Kavanaugh has made the church an active part of the Faith Communities for Families and Children, a coalition that advocates for children.

He also helped organize a Los Angeles mayoral debate in March with the L.A. METRO-Industrial Arias Foundation, a federation of about 80 religious congregations, unions and organizations.

Archdiocese officials have not made public the names of the priests on leave because of allegations of sexual abuse. But they include Msgr. Christian Van Liefde of St. Genevieve Church in Panorama City, Father Honesto Bismonte of St. Joseph Church in Pomona and Father David Granadino of St. Frances of Rome Church in Azusa.

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