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Church Mum On Resignation

Feb 22, 2003 | Monterey County Herald

A week after the second-highest official in the Monterey diocese resigned over ties to an alleged pedophile, church officials still have not publicly discussed his future, his replacement or details of the relationship.

Monsignor Charles Fatooh, 56, stepped down Feb. 13 as vicar general amid media questioning about his dealings with longtime acquaintance Monsignor Robert Trupia. Trupia, a 54-year-old clergyman suspended a decade ago over pedophilia allegations in Arizona, got a consulting position with the diocese through Fatooh in 1995 and later lived in a Maryland condominium owned by Fatooh.

Fatooh was expected to return from a 10-day vacation at the end of this week, but diocesan officials said they did not know the exact day. Diocesan spokesman Kevin Drabinski said Friday the monsignor has not spoken to Bishop Sylvester Ryan about retirement or continuing on in the diocese.

"This is not something that gets decided by phone," Drabinski said.

He said Fatooh "is still a priest and still a member of the diocese." He added, "I am not in a position to speculate on possible scenarios" for his employment.

Drabinski said he didn't know whether Fatooh would retain his old salary or receive a pay cut. He did not disclose his salary, but said the pay of a diocesan leader was little more than that of a priest.

In the meantime, Drabinski said, officials from various diocesan departments are filling in for Fatooh. As vicar general, he was a stand-in for Ryan during the bishop's absences. He also served as moderator of the curia, the diocese's chief operations officer. He had been credited with solidifying diocesan finances.

Drabinski said the diocese has no time frame for hiring a replacement.

Fatooh spokesman Sean Walsh did not return calls Friday.

Fatooh's friend Trupia was suspended from the priesthood in 1992 over pedophilia allegations in Arizona. He has been accused in civil court of molesting up to 30 boys while he was a priest for the Tucson diocese. The Catholic Church in Arizona has paid out several million dollars to settle lawsuits involving him. He has spent more than a decade fighting efforts to defrock him.

Since the suspension, he has lived in West Hollywood and the Washington area.

In 1995, he secured a consulting job with the Diocese of Monterey through Fatooh. For the next three years, he made six two-week visits a year to the Monterey diocese, where he gave advice on matters such as property law, employment issues and Catholic marital doctrine. He worked out of offices across the street from San Carlos School and stayed in Fatooh's residence, which was owned by the diocese.

Though some parishioners have been pressing for the information, the diocese refuses to reveal how much it paid Trupia in consulting fees. Drabinski says it has a policy of not disclosing salaries and other expenditures.

In 1998, Diocese of Monterey officials told Trupia to do his consulting by phone after it learned that he was one of several priests named as defendants in a sexual-abuse lawsuit, Drabinski said. In November 2001, news of further lawsuits prompted the diocese to terminate its contract with Trupia. It has had no contact with him since, Drabinski said.

But just as Trupia's consulting contract was being severed, he moved into an Ellicott City, Md., condominium that Fatooh had just purchased. Drabinski said church officials in Monterey were not aware of that until recently when they were alerted by an Arizona reporter.

Drabinski said the diocese will not press Fatooh to terminate his lease with Trupia, calling it "a private transaction" over which the diocese has no authority.

Diocesan officials have no plans to appoint an interim successor, but have not decided when they will appoint a permanent replacement, Drabinski said.

Replacing Fatooh quickly "is not as much of an issue as doing it right," Drabinski said.

He wouldn't say how the diocese will choose a replacement, calling it an "internal personnel matter."

Drabinski would not detail what if any methods church officials would use to screen candidates.

Frank Allison, spokesman for the Diocese of Tucson, said a diocese usually appoints from within and looks for a pastor with administrative experience.

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