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Victims of Sex Abuse Leaflet Churches

June 28, 2004|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Forty-six-year-old Carlos Lopez has talked about the clergy sex abuse scandal countless times with other lifelong Catholics. But before Sunday, he had never discussed the controversy with an abuse victim.

Lopez has attended the St. Vincent de Paul parish on West Adams Boulevard since he was a child. As he left the 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Eric Barragan handed him a flier that said in English and Spanish: "We are clergy sex abuse victims trying to recover from our trauma and protect kids and vulnerable people in the church."

As other parishioners ignored the small group of abuse victims passing out fliers and holding signs just steps from the church's ornamented doors, Lopez and Barragan began chatting.

Barragan of Ventura told Lopez about his abuse and ensuing alcohol and drug problems. He told him about the years of living in shame and fear.

"My perpetrator was ordained in this church by Cardinal Mahony," said 29-year-old Barragan, referring to Roger M. Mahony, head of the Los Angeles archdiocese.

"That's why I'm here.... We had a positive talk."

After meeting Barragan, Lopez said, he found it easier to see the scandal from the perspective of those affected by it. "It's all about perspective," he said. "I understand this happened, but I know it doesn't represent the church as a whole."

Barragan was among abuse victims who passed out fliers at 11 Southern California churches Sunday, an action organized by SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. SNAP is one of several organizations pushing for the release of personnel files of priests in the archdioceses of Los Angeles and Orange counties. Their new fliers listed 200 known or alleged abusers in Southern California.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is in negotiations with lawyers representing hundreds of victims who allege they were abused by priests. The diocese has offered at least $40 million to settle the cases.

Sunday's action was meant to remind Catholics that the clergy sex abuse scandal is far from over.

Barragan said he was just glad -- after years of trauma and months of treatment for substance abuse -- to be able to talk about his experiences openly. His abuser, former Santa Paula priest Carlos Rene Rodriguez, was sentenced in March to eight years in prison for sexually abusing Barragan and a sibling.

Barragan said he was "living proof" that victims can emerge from their abuse for the better.

Eager to talk to people leaving the church, Barragan was nonetheless spurned by some.

"He has a right to be here," Lopez said after Barragan and two other SNAP leafleteers packed up and left for the day. "All considerations aside, at least as a person of faith, I sympathize with what he has been through, with the betrayal."

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