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8 Men Claim Former Oxnard Priest Sexually Abused Them as Children

May 3, 2002 | Los Angeles Times

Oxnard police are investigating allegations by eight men who say they were sexually abused as children at a church and on trips by a priest now working in Mexico.

The eight men, including two who are now police officers, sued Father Fidencio Silva, his order and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Thursday, alleging battery, negligent supervision and sexual abuse. Under California law intended to protect civil defendants in such cases, the four lawsuits did not name the priest or other defendants. However, the attorneys filing the lawsuits provided the names.

Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez said his department has begun an investigation into the allegations of abuse by Silva. The lawsuits filed in Los Angeles Superior Court seek unspecified monetary damages. They allege Silva actively concealed the sexual exploitation of the boys and that church officials "knew or reasonably should have known" about the priest's conduct.

The suits accuse Silva, 45, of sexually abusing the boys from 1979 to about 1985 after becoming a pastor at Oxnard's Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. Some alleged abuses occurred during trips to Mexico, said Jeffrey R. Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney handling the case.

"This guy is a pedophile predator," Anderson said. "We have identified a total of 10 victims in a few years in Oxnard.... He is still out there and in position to ruin the lives of Mexican children. Our goal is prevention first, and maybe justice someday."

The men only recently confided the abuse to each other, they say. All are identified in the lawsuits as Juan Doe.

"He told me he was painting this Christ rising for Easter Sunday," said one of the men. "He was an artist and needed a model. He arranged for me to leave school and in the upper sacristy he asked me to disrobe.... I remember in my mind thinking, 'How does my body compare to the body of Christ?' I think I was a seventh-grader."

The man, now 35, alleges that Silva took photographs of him naked and then committed a sex act, saying he needed the photographs for a sex education class.

The man was allegedly molested from 1979 to 1983, the suit alleges.

Larry Drivon, a Stockton attorney also representing the eight men, said Silva was "sent to a dump ground for predator priests in Mexico."

Silva, also known as Silva Flores, could not be reached in Mexico for comment.

However, in a TV interview aired this week with Joel Grover, a CBS-2 reporter, Silva denied he sexually abused his accusers.

Silva is a member of Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, a small Mexico-based order that provides services to bilingual parishes.

Joe Deems, an attorney for the order, said a letter from Anderson a few weeks ago was the first notice the order had received about abuse allegations against Silva. He would not comment on the lawsuit.

Deems said an adult in 1995 complained of sexual misconduct allegedly committed by Silva the year before.

The archdiocese required the order to investigate the allegation. It determined Silva did not commit a crime, Deems said, but because of the "appearance of impropriety" he was removed from his assignment.

"He was removed from his pastoral assignment and relocated back to Mexico," Deems said. Silva took a leave of absence and underwent "some counseling" and then was assigned to a retreat in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. He is permitted to say Mass and hear confessionals, Deems said.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles on Thursday, a 37-year-old former altar boy at Boyle Heights Church said he has reported to police that he was molested by a priest who was known for his work with Eastside gang members.

Lorenzo Najera alleged that the Rev. John Santillan molested him during the late 1970s, when Najera was age 12 through 17, at Santa Teresita Church.

He alleged the priest abused him in an upstairs bedroom of the church, during retreats in San Bernardino County and on a trip to Europe. He sued the priest in 1998 but the civil case was dismissed.

Santillan has been assigned to a parish in Bolivia since 1998.

''What proof does he have?" said Santillan when reached by La Opinion newspaper in the town of Cochabamba in Bolivia.

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