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Diocese Continues To Release Information To Civil Authorities

Jun 20, 2002 | San Diego Union-Tribune

After announcing that 23 priests have been accused of sexually abusing children since 1990, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego is continuing to turn over the information to civil authorities for review and possible prosecution.

"We are doing the utmost to protect the identities of the people who brought these claims forward, but in accordance with the bishops' resolution in Dallas, we are striving for a policy that is more open, more transparent, more actively cooperative with law enforcement," Alexandra Kelly, the diocese's attorney, said yesterday.

Five cases will go to the Imperial County District Attorney's Office and the rest have been turned over to San Diego County, Kelly said. The diocese covers both counties.

The allegations go back decades and most of the people who complained are adults who recounted childhood incidents. Six of the accused priests are dead and the others are not serving in ministry.

San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst asked for the cases in his jurisdiction on Tuesday after Bishop Robert Brom released a report on the number of allegations since he took over in 1990.

Kelly called authorities in Imperial County and offered the diocese's cooperation with them, too.

Joseph Beard, assistant district attorney of Imperial County, said Kelly told him she would send a letter listing the names of the priests who had been accused. Beard said he was told the complaints were from the 1970s.

"Until we see what they have, I'm not making any decisions," he said. "Most likely, we will contact the individuals that made complaints. We are going to wait and see, get the information and react."

Early this week, the diocese turned over information on 18 past cases to San Diego County authorities in response to the unfolding scandal across the country about how such cases have been handled by church hierarchy. Originally, it was thought there were only 15 cases, but yesterday a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office confirmed there were 18.

On Monday, after returning from a meeting of U.S. bishops that pledged openness and adopted a zero-tolerance policy for offending priests, Brom ended months of near-silence on the scandal that began in Boston and rippled across the country.

Other dioceses throughout California also are turning over some of their cases to district attorneys, either in response to the new national policy adopted by Catholic bishops last week, or at the request of law enforcement itself.

In mid-April, the Sacramento diocese agreed to hand over to prosecutors 30 years of files, said Larry Brown, executive director of the California District Attorneys Association. Church officials in Monterey are likewise making their files available.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco, which covers three counties, has turned over 30 years of allegations to Marin and San Mateo district attorneys, although Brown said San Francisco prosecutors want up to 75 years of information.

Next week at a meeting in Lake Tahoe, district attorneys from around the state will review a draft proposal for a protocol on how Catholic dioceses can better work with civil authorities in reporting cases of abuse.

"It's more about the specifics of what sorts of cases and documents should the diocese be looking for when undertaking their reviews," Brown said.

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