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Child Porn Tests Rules in Diocese

Allegations against two Orange County priests don't -- yet -- fall under a firing policy triggered only by sexual abuse that's physical.

July 30, 2003|William Lobdell and Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

But church officials and prosecutors say evidence and proof aren't that easy. Junk e-mails, pop-up ads and misleading Web links can dump pornographic material on to a computer's hard drive without the operator's knowledge. It's also difficult maintaining an unbroken "chain of evidence" because of the potential of multiple users on a single computer. In the Salazar case, the computer changed hands at least twice after the priest owned it.

The cases have waded into the gray area of computer forensics, which, like analysis of DNA, fingerprints and other physical evidence, is not always an exact science. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said that possession of child porn would be viewed as a zero-tolerance offense there and that new language was being added to the church's policy to reflect this.

"Our starting point for this discussion is that child pornography is child abuse," said the spokesman, Tod Tamberg.

In the Diocese of Orange, Brown said he would work to streamline the review process so such cases are dealt with more quickly. The Salazar accusation first arose in September 2001.

"We need to move more efficiently and effectively," said Brown, who also said he learned only last week that a choir director for three parishes had been convicted of lewd conduct 18 years ago. The news came more than 90 days after fingerprinting had uncovered the conviction to the diocesan staff. The choir director was fired last week after the case became public.

Because of vacation schedules, the sexual misconduct review board -- made up of four lay members, a priest and a nun -- has been unable to hold an emergency meeting to address the current matters, though church officials said they were trying to set up a session for next week.

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