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Clergyman Arrested, Accused of Molesting Teenage Boy In 1970s

May 9, 2003 | UNION-TRIBUNE Criminal charges were filed in San Diego yesterday against a Wisconsin priest for allegedly molesting a teenage boy in the late 1970s at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Pacific Beach.

The Rev. Franklyn Becker, 65, was taken into custody without incident yesterday afternoon at his residence in Mayville, Wis., about 55 miles northwest of Milwaukee, said the California Attorney General's Office.

A Los Angeles man said yesterday that Becker abused him for about six months in 1977 when he worked as a clerk in the office at St. Brigid.

Becker's was the first criminal complaint issued here since the national scandal of clergy sexual abuse broke in Boston more than a year ago. Senior Assistant Attorney General Gary Schons, whose San Diego office took over the cases from the District Attorney's Office in March, said there will be more arrests.

The complaint filed yesterday was based on allegations by Nick Jordan, now 41 and a manager in the movie industry. The San Diego Union-Tribune identifies victims of sexual assaults only in those cases in which they consent to be named.

"He (Becker) became friendly with the boys at the church. While he was there, he took me out to dinner and to the movies," said Jordan, who was 15 and a student at St. Augustine, a Catholic high school in North Park.

Then Becker approached Jordan with questions about the gay lifestyle. "He had some idea I was gay, which I am," Jordan said.

The priest became more aggressive, Jordan said. The criminal complaint alleges two counts of oral copulation and two counts of child molestation.

"It was definitely unwanted," Jordan said. "I didn't know what to do about it. Here I am a high school kid and I didn't want anyone to know. I didn't want to come out to my parents. I felt very alone."

Jordan said he was "ecstatic" about the arrest. "This man took advantage of me," he said.

Becker could be brought to San Diego to face criminal charges in as few as 10 days, said Deputy Attorney General Peter Quon, who is handling San Diego County clergy abuse cases.

The Rev. Lloyd Bourgeois was pastor at St. Brigid when Becker was there, and he said he asked that the visiting priest be sent back to Milwaukee.

"I didn't know him until he got there and I didn't feel comfortable working with him," Bourgeois said. "There was something about him. He was very secretive about things. I said if we are preaching the gospel, we should be open books."

Bourgeois, who is now retired, was saddened about the news that Becker had been arrested.

"I'm sad to hear that someone was hurt, not the fact that he got caught supposedly doing something 20 years ago," Bourgeois said. "We're supposed to be ministers of the gospel, ministers of peace. This cuts me to the quick."

Peter Isely, who is on the national board of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and lives in the Milwaukee area, greeted news of the arrest with relief.

"It's about time," Isely said. "I'm glad about it."

Isely said he met the California victim last October when he came to a "listening session" in Milwaukee, in which victims of clergy abuse told their stories to church and community members.

"Just the fact that he was able to be arrested is very important and significant for victims of clergy abuse here," Isely said.

Becker, who was ordained May 30, 1964, served as a curate at Holy Assumption in West Allis, Wis., and as associate pastor at St. John Nepomuc, Holy Family, St. Margaret Mary and St. John parishes in the Milwaukee area. Other assignments included chaplain at West Allis Memorial Hospital from Nov. 6, 1984 through Oct. 1, 1991, when he was classified as "waiting for assignment," said Jerry Topczewski, spokesman for the Milwaukee archdiocese.

It was unclear whether abuse allegations surfaced at that time, Topczewski said.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego first learned of the allegation against Becker at St. Brigid in April 2002, said diocesan spokesman Rodrigo Valdivia. The diocese turned over Becker's name to the District Attorney's Office, along with those of about two dozen other priests, in July at the request of then-District Attorney Paul Pfingst.

The Milwaukee archdiocese removed Becker from performing any ministry on July 22, 2002, the Milwaukee spokesman said. The priest had been helping out with Mass on weekends, even though he did not have his own parish.

The Milwaukee archdiocese has one other case of clergy abuse being prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office there, the spokesman said.

In another example of fallout from the scandal, Milwaukee's Archbishop Rembert Weakland resigned a year ago, after acknowledging that he paid a $450,000 secret settlement to a man who had accused Weakland of sexually assaulting him in 1979. The bishop admitted to an inappropriate relationship with the man, but denied that there was any abuse.

The criminal charges came during the same week as about 200 priests from across the country met in Kansas City for a meeting of the National Federation of Priests' Councils. In his opening speech, the Rev. Robert Silva, president of the national priests' group, called on the bishops to revise their zero tolerance policy and find ministries for guilty clergy, rather than dismissing them from the church.

Nationally, at least 325 of the 46,000 U.S. priests were either dismissed from their duties or resigned last year as an investigation that began in the Boston Archdiocese widened across the country.

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