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Priest Fired As Head Of School

Mar 23, 2002 | The Los Angeles Times

A priest has been dismissed from his position as president of an Encino Catholic boys school after allegations that he sexually abused two students and several other minors more than two decades ago, officials said Friday.

The Rev. Dominic Savino was ousted from the presidency of Crespi Carmelite High School and from acting as a priest by the Order of Carmelites, which operates the school, after it learned of allegations of sexual abuse. Authorities said that the abuse of the students occurred in 1979 and that the other cases also occurred during the 1970s.

Savino, who was once the school's resident psychotherapist, was appointed president in January 2001. His case was brought to authorities' attention last week when a woman who said her twin boys were abused by Savino on a school field trip contacted a new church abuse hotline. The order, in a frank letter to "Members of Crespi Carmelite High School family," said an internal investigation revealed the other incidents of sexual abuse.

Savino, 63, is the latest priest to be swept up in the wave of sexual abuse cases that has enveloped the Roman Catholic Church in recent months. On Thursday, Pope John Paul II decried the abuse.

The Very Rev. Leo McCarthy, the Carmelite provincial in Chicago, wrote in announcing Savino's dismissal: "In this Lenten season in diocese after diocese the U.S. church has been burdened and besieged by a most serious matter--a series of reports of sexual misconduct with minors by members of the clergy. I am very saddened to inform you this issue has now reached this community."

School officials said they reported Savino to the Los Angeles Police Department's sexually exploited child unit. "Father Dominic has cooperated with our investigation and acknowledged there were some incidents that took place and he did seek psychotherapy and counseling," said the Rev. Joe Fitzgerald, alumni relations director. "When we became aware, as is our policy, we contacted law enforcement."

"Obviously we are devastated," said Fitzgerald. "I went to school here. I've known Father Dominic for several years."

In a move to help boost confidence, the Rev. Augustine Carter, the school's founding principal, took the post of acting president Friday.

The mother of the former students telephoned a new hotline set up by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to receive and process information about allegations of clerical sexual misconduct with minors. The archdiocese, which has no authority over the Carmelite school, passed the allegations to the order.

Fitzgerald said Savino went through counseling and psychotherapy after the incidents, and as far as the order is aware, there had not been another reported case since that time.

"In his case the treatment helped him and it paid off," Fitzgerald said.

However, the school is continuing an active investigation into Savino, according to Friday's letter

Under a policy established by the order in 1982, Savino has been removed from the active ministry, offered counseling and is under the watch of another priest 24 hours a day, Fitzgerald said. "He's still in Los Angeles," Fitzgerald said. "He needs to be for a further investigation by the authorities."

In Friday's letter, Carmelite leader McCarthy offered an apology. "The Carmelites believe that we must act responsibly and compassionately to all victims of sexual misconduct, their families and their communities, who are devastated by this behavior. On behalf of the Carmelites I apologize to all who are affected by the tragedy of clerical sexual misconduct with minors."

Savino, ordained as a Carmelite priest in 1958, came to the school in 1977 as part-time counselor; he previously worked at De Sales High School in Louisville, Ky., and served as director of the Carmelite community in Rome.

He left Crespi in 1986 to get a doctorate in psychology and subsequently went into private practice in the San Fernando Valley. He returned to Crespi as the school's resident psychotherapist in 1995.

Crespi's 492 students were notified during a 12:45 p.m. assembly in the school gymnasium Friday. Fitzgerald said a stunned silence fell over the gym.

"The students are depressed and confused, but mainly sad," Fitzgerald said. "Some of them are still in shock. Father Dominic was very popular here."

"He was a really warm guy. Just a really nice man," said Matt Gotts man, 15, a Crespi sophomore.

Counselors were on hand Friday afternoon to discuss the issue with students and others.

They will conduct another session on the clerical sexual abuse Sunday afternoon on the campus. Fitzgerald said the school will not ignore the victims' plight. He said, "We are trying to find as many victims as we can."

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