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Ex-Catholic priest accuses another of sexually abusing him as a teenager

April 21, 2009|Duke Helfand

A former Roman Catholic priest accused another former priest Monday of sexually abusing him in the rectory of a La Habra church when he was a teenager.

In a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, Ben Rodriguez, 45, said he was molested numerous times between the ages of 15 and 18 in the priest's church apartment. On some occasions, the priest gave him muscle relaxants and sleeping pills before abusing him, Rodriguez alleged.

The lawsuit did not name the accused priest, but Rodriguez identified him as Gordon Pillon in interviews and at a news conference Monday outside the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. Rodriguez handed out copies of a photograph of himself and Pillon, taken at the younger man's confirmation nearly three decades ago.

Rodriguez alleged that Pillon, then an assistant pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra and Rodriguez's spiritual advisor, took advantage of him while his parents were divorcing and that Pillon eventually persuaded him to sever his ties to his family and enter the seminary. Several years later, the two worked together at churches in Illinois, where Rodriguez was an assistant pastor to Pillon.

Rodriguez was a priest in the Diocese of Peoria for 16 years. In 2006, he decided to tell diocesan officials about the alleged abuse after another young man there said Pillon had made sexual advances toward him, Rodriguez said in an interview.

"Gordon wasn't just a priest, he was like a cult figure," Rodriguez said. "He didn't have a conscience."

Pillon, who was informed by a reporter about the lawsuit, denied any wrongdoing.

In 2006, Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky asked Pillon to step down from public ministry, after Rodriguez made his allegations. According to a statement released by the diocese at the time, Jenky asked Pillon to stop wearing clerical garb and to refrain from using the title "reverend" or "father."

Pillon, who is now a part-time college professor in Prague, said the case remains under review by Catholic officials.

"He made an accusation against me at the Diocese of Peoria. That was sent to Rome. That case was not proven true," Pillon said of Rodriguez. "It's still in Rome. It just shocks me that he would take it to a civil court."

The Rodriguez case is the latest instance of alleged sexual abuse by priests in Orange County and other dioceses throughout the country. In December 2004, the Diocese of Orange agreed to pay $100 million to settle 87 abuse claims against priests.

Rodriguez said that in response to his report on Pillon, the Illinois diocese gave him six days to leave his parish and the state. He said he was ordered to report to a treatment center in Pennsylvania for therapy.

He said he asked if he could return to Illinois after several months but was told he could not. Rodriguez soon moved back to California and left the priesthood. He now works as a substitute teacher in Riverside County.

"When I gave the report, I knew this would be the end of my ministry," Rodriguez said.

In the lawsuit, Rodriguez alleged that diocesan officials in Orange County had "failed to take reasonable steps to prevent future sexual misconduct and molestation" in his case.

A spokesman for the Orange diocese said officials had not seen the lawsuit but "hope for an expedient resolution of this issue." An administrator from the Peoria diocese did not respond to requests for an interview.

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duke.helfand@latimes.com

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