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Suspected child molester left L.A. archdiocese for L.A. schools

The former priest, Joseph Pina, did not work with children in his district job, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said. L.A. Unified is looking into Pina's hiring.

February 04, 2013|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • An undated photo of Father Joseph Pina, who was ordained in 1972, appears in the 1999 Catholic directory for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
An undated photo of Father Joseph Pina, who was ordained in 1972, appears… (see caption, see caption )

A former priest and suspected child molester left employment with the Los Angeles archdiocese to work for the L.A. Unified School District, officials confirmed Sunday.

The former clergyman, Joseph Pina, did not work with children in his school district job, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said. He added that, as a result of the disclosures, Pina would no longer be employed by the nation's second-largest school system.

Over the weekend, Deasy was unable to pull together Pina's full employment history, but said the district already was looking into the matter of Pina's hiring.

"I find it troubling," he said of the disclosures about Pina. "And I also want to understand what knowledge that we had of any background problems when hiring him, and I don't yet know that."

L.A. Unified itself has come under fire in the last year for its handling of employees accused of sexual misconduct.

Pina, 66, was laid off from his full-time district job last year, but returned to work episodically to organize events. One event he may have helped organize was a ribbon-cutting Saturday for a new education facility. School district officials over the weekend, however, could not confirm that. Pina did not attend the event, and the district could not confirm payment for any help he may have provided.

Pina's name emerged in documents released by the archdiocese to comply with a court order. His case was one of many in which church officials failed to take action to protect child victims and in which first consideration was given to helping the offending priests rather than their victims, according to the documentation.

A just-released, internal 1993 psychological evaluation states that Pina "remains a serious risk for acting out." The evaluation recounts how Pina was attracted to a victim, an eighth-grade girl, when he saw her in a costume.

"She dressed as Snow White ... I had a crush on Snow White, so I started to open myself up to her," he told the psychologist. "I felt like I fell in love with her. I got sexually involved with her, but never intercourse. She was about 17 when we got involved sexually, and it continued until she was about 19."

In a report sent to a top Mahony aide, the psychologist expressed concern the abuse was never reported to authorities.

Pina's evaluation also includes a recommendation "to take appropriate measures and precautions to insure that he is not in a setting where he can victimize others." Pina continued to work as a pastor as late as March 1998.

School district officials could not verify Pina's hiring date over the weekend, but he took a job with L.A. Unified as the school system was carrying out the nation's largest school construction program. His job involved community outreach, building support for school projects, while also finding out communities' concerns and trying to address them, officials said. Such work was crucial to the program, because even though communities wanted new schools, their locations and other elements could prove controversial. Such projects frequently involved tearing down homes or businesses, environmental cleanups, and the blocking of streets and other disruptions.

"His duties were to rally community support and elicit community comments regarding schools in a neighborhood," district spokesman Tom Waldman said.

Pina's work did bring him into contact with families, frequently at public meetings organized to hear and address their concerns.

Projects that Pina worked on included a new elementary school in Porter Ranch and a high school serving the west San Fernando Valley, Waldman said. The high school, in particular, generated substantial public debate as a district team and a local charter school competed aggressively for control of the site.

The $19.5-billion building program is winding down, and, as a result, many jobs attached to it have come to an end. Pina's was among them.

The dedication he may have helped organize Saturday was for the Richard N. Slawson Southeast Occupational Center in Bell. Participants told KCET-TV, which first reported Pina's school employment, that he had assisted with community outreach on that project. The adult education and career technical education facility has 29 classrooms as well as health-career labs and child care for students. The school opened in August 2012.

Pina "was slated for some additional temporary work when the issue came to our attention last week and that work was canceled," Deasy said.

It may have been Pina who first alerted district officials that his name appeared in disclosed documents, Deasy said. Pina called a senior administrator in the facilities division. So far, no untoward issues have emerged regarding Pina's work for L.A. Unified.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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