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Ex-Priest Gets 8 Years for Abuse

The former cleric had pleaded guilty to molesting two brothers in Santa Paula more than 10 years ago and faces them in court.

March 13, 2004|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

A former Roman Catholic priest was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison for molesting two teenage brothers in Santa Paula more than a decade ago.

Carlos Rene Rodriguez, 48, had faced more than 10 years behind bars, but prosecutors recommended the lesser penalty because he pleaded guilty last month, sparing the victims from having to testify at a trial.

"He has betrayed God and his role to society," Deputy Dist. Atty. Anthony Wold said during the emotional afternoon sentencing. "There are no words to describe him."

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark made no comments before sentencing Rodriguez for his admissions of masturbating with and having oral sex with one boy and having oral sex with the other boy.

Most of the molestations occurred at the boys' home between 1988 and 1993, authorities said. The victims were 13 and 14 when the incidents began.

Rodriguez, wearing a blue jailhouse jumpsuit, stood alone in the jury box. He stared toward the floor during the sentencing procedure, crying occasionally, as his attorney shielded him from the audience.

"Mr. Rodriguez, I believe, is profoundly sorry for the pain he has caused," defense attorney James Farley told the judge. "There are no words to describe the shame, sorrow and guilt of what he did to the victims."

According to statements by the victims, the abuse started after Rodriguez befriended the victims' parents during a couples retreat in 1987 at Santa Paula's Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

At the time, Rodriguez was conducting retreats in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and was a regional consultant for the Los Angeles Archdiocese's Office of Family Life in Santa Barbara. The archdiocese encompasses Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Rodriguez was relieved of his clerical duties in 1993.

One victim, 29-year-old Eric Barragan, twice demanded that Rodriguez look him in the eye as he spoke to the court about his pain. The former priest complied.

"Being raised a devout Catholic, our family was blessed to have you as part of the family. You came and went as you wished. You had a key to the front door," Barragan said. "Over the years, your hold on me became a prison."

Barragan said some of the abuse had occurred in his bedroom when two of his brothers were sleeping nearby. Barragan, who still lives in Santa Paula, described repeated abuse that forced him to live a "double life."

Barragan also offered Rodriguez his forgiveness and said that he wanted to be forgiven himself for hating the ex-priest for so long.

The other victim, Manuel Barragan Jr., Eric's younger brother, accused Rodriguez of betraying the Barragan family and disgracing the church.

"When I first met you, you had my love and confidence," said the Los Angeles resident, now a 28-year-old parent himself. "I entrusted you with my innocence, for I was just a child. I never understood how important my innocence was until you took it from me."

The victims' mother, Rosa Barragan, also addressed the court. Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, she told the judge that the pain and suffering had been enormous and that justice was needed.

The victims said their parents had been unaware of the abuse as it was happening and only learned of it in 2001, when Manuel Barragan Jr. wrote to his parents and described his anger.

Rodriguez was originally arrested last year on suspicion of sexually abusing an altar boy in the mid-1980s at St. Vincent de Paul Church in downtown Los Angeles, where he worked before taking his post in Santa Barbara.

That alleged victim, who came to court Friday and identified himself as Miguel R., told the courtroom that Rodriguez had made his life very difficult.

The charges involving Miguel R., who lives in Los Angeles, were dropped after a U.S. Supreme Court decision interpreting the statutes of limitation in California sex-abuse cases. The ruling struck down part of a state law allowing prosecutors to file charges in decades-old cases.

That ruling also meant that Ventura County prosecutors could not charge Rodriguez with molesting Eric and Manuel Barragan's older brother, now 30, who also claimed he was victimized. That brother also came to court and stood by his mother at the podium as she spoke.

In addition to the prison time, Rodriguez was ordered to pay $2,000 to a victims restitution fund, take an HIV test and give the results to the victims, and register for life as a sex offender.

In December, the Barragans filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Church in Los Angeles County Superior Court. No trial date has been set.

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