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Church's New Policy Forces Two San Jose Priests to Scale Back Duties

Jun 22, 2002 | KPIX/KCBS

Two Roman Catholic priests in the San Jose Diocese who served jail time for child molestation convictions have been stripped of their ministerial duties.

This is the first time in the Bay Area where the church's "Zero Tolerance" police has actually been enforced.

Last week's in Dallas bishops adopted a ``zero tolerance'' sex-abuse policy.

San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath said Friday that the Rev. Leonel Noia and the Rev. Robert Gray will not be involved in any public ministry. They will never ``be able to function in public -- say Mass, wear clerical garb, or present themselves as priests,'' he said.

Noia, 55, has been the pastor at San Jose's Five Wounds Portuguese National Church for 16 years. He is currently on sabbatical. Gray, 41, served his last day Friday as head of the diocese's cemeteries department.

Noia was convicted of molesting a 12-year-old boy on a camping trip in 1976; Gray was convicted of sexually abusing a teen-age boy during karate lessons in 1993. Both men went to jail and received psychiatric treatment before returning to the ministry.

McGrath said the diocese is working out severance packages for the men.

Noia said he did not believe the bishop's decision could be official until Pope John Paul (news - web sites) II approves the new policy. But he said he would not object.

``I am prepared to accept whatever the decision is on the local level,'' Noia told the San Jose Mercury News. ``I support the concept of zero tolerance, for the good of the church, even though it may carry a tremendous personal sacrifice for me.''

Also this week, McGrath told two already retired priests accused of sexually abusing minors in the 1980s or earlier that they also cannot appear in public.

McGrath has started making arrangements to fingerprint hundreds of church employees and volunteers who work with children in the diocese's 52 parishes. He is also asking parishes to replace wooden doors in confessionals or meeting rooms with soundproof glass doors, said the Rev. Kevin Joyce, dean of the diocese's southeast deanery.

``Wherever we're doing personal counseling,'' Joyce said, ``we must be visible from the outside.''

The bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was adopted June 14 at a meeting forced by months of scandal in which at least 250 priests have resigned or been suspended owing to misconduct claims. The policy was intended to be mandatory, but Vatican approval is needed to make the document binding -- and that could take weeks or longer.

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