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List of Sued L.A. Priests Grows

A Boyle Heights pastor is revealed to be one of at least 11 clerics still working as sex-abuse cases pend. Parishioners close ranks.

February 09, 2004|Jia-Rui Chong and Jean Merl | Times Staff Writers

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced Sunday to a somber congregation that another one of its priests has been accused of sexual abuse, this time in a civil suit filed Dec. 31.

Msgr. Gabriel Gonzales read a statement from the archdiocese to parishioners at Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa Church in Boyle Heights during a Mass. It said the pastor, Father Francisco Mateos, had allegedly abused someone more than 20 years ago at another church.

After Mateos denied the allegation, the congregation broke into applause.

Several miles away, in San Marino, parishioners were closing ranks around their embattled pastor, Msgr. Richard A. Loomis. The congregation of SS. Felicitas and Perpetua Church was among those at several parishes informed last week about lawsuits against their priests.

Loomis, one of the most prominent of the accused priests, is among at least 11 clerics who remain in parish ministries pending the outcomes of these suits. The archdiocese has said that the clerics have been allowed to continue because each of them has denied wrongdoing and because the cases lack immediately credible evidence.

None of the 10 defendants announced last week is under criminal investigation. Diocese officials could not say whether Mateos was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Sunday's services at both churches brought more reminders of the difficulties facing the archdiocese as it tries to grapple with allegations of sexual abuse in lawsuits filed by about 500 people.

In Boyle Heights, Gonzales informed the hushed, 150-person congregation that the suit against Mateos contained "very sketchy information" about an alleged abuse at nearby Santa Isabel Catholic Church from 1976 to 1979. It could not be learned whether the accuser was a man or a woman, or where the suit was filed.

The archdiocese in recent weeks had informed other parishes of possible misconduct by their priests. The delay in revealing Mateos' situation occurred because the information had to be cleared with the priest's Vincentian order first, Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said Sunday.

"You probably are not aware that your pastor, Father Francisco Mateos, was named as a defendant in one of these [sexual abuse] lawsuits," Gonzales told the congregation. "We wanted you to learn this information from us first rather than through secular news reports."

Gonzales assured parishioners that the archdiocese was still investigating the charges.

A grim-faced Mateos, 70, said: "I have been accused also after all my years here in Talpa with you. I never touched anyone in any way sexually. And you know me."

The church filled with the sound of clapping.

As parishioners filed slowly out the front doors, some could be heard asking each other, "What did he do?" Most hugged Mateos, patted his face or murmured words of encouragement. The gray-haired pastor shook his head and held their hands as he thanked them for their support.

He told a reporter after the service, "I haven't done anything wrong."

Longtime parishioner Loretta Hernandez, 50, and her mother, Maura Hernandez, 80, said they were shocked by the announcement.

Loretta Hernandez, a social worker, said she was glad the church had informed the congregation because possible sexual abuse is a serious and frightening topic.

But she could not believe the allegation against Mateos. "He's very amable," Hernandez said. "What's the word in English? ... Loving, kind.... He wouldn't do anything inappropriate with anyone."

In San Marino, parishioners were coping with last week's announcement about Loomis. A church official said a man accused Loomis of abusing him while the plaintiff was a high school student from 1969 to 1971.

Loomis, the former head of clergy for the archdiocese who oversaw misconduct allegations against priests, has said he did not recall his accuser and did not molest him.

The priest celebrated a 9:30 a.m. Mass to a typical full house and made no mention of the accusation.

But Mark Thompson of the church's Pastoral Council announced near the end of the Mass that reporters and members of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) were waiting outside.

"Please treat the members of SNAP with courtesy and respect," Thompson urged the congregation, adding that those who did not want to talk to reporters could offer a "No, thank you."

Many of those who had packed the large, Spanish-style church declined comment to reporters but greeted Loomis warmly as they left the service, offering words of comfort and support.

"God bless you!" said a woman as she shook the priest's hand. "Our prayers are with you," another said.

Usher Steve Cipriani said he did not believe the accusation against Loomis, who has been pastor at SS. Felicitas and Perpetua since last summer.

"People are concerned, but it's yet to be proven," Cipriani said.

Parishioner Meghan Corzo said she was saddened by the accusations and the attention.

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