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Priest's Abuse Case Dates to '67

May 18, 2002 | The Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Archdiocese knew for three decades about 1967 child abuse accusations against Father G. Neville Rucker, a retired priest living at Corpus Christi church in Pacific Palisades until his April 23 removal.

Rucker was ordered to move from the Corpus Christi rectory and permanently leave the ministry as Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other prelates met last month at the Vatican to discuss the growing sex abuse crisis.

Rucker is last of the seven Los Angeles Archdiocese priests forced out of the ministry this year after Mahony began enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for clerics accused of sexual abuse. The policy was included in a $5.2-million lawsuit settlement last year involving the Orange and Los Angeles dioceses.

The 82-year-old priest was accused of molesting two 9-year-old girls at St. Anthony parish in El Segundo during the 1960s, according to a police report and court records. Rucker at the time denied any misconduct at the church, where he served as associate pastor from 1962 to 1967. He did not respond to requests for an interview.

Rucker's forced departure from Corpus Christi came 35 years after Mahony's predecessor, then-Bishop Timothy Manning, persuaded the mother of one of the El Segundo girls not to press criminal charges. Manning asked the woman to let the church deal with Rucker, according to police reports.

The archdiocese moved Rucker to four other parishes before he was made pastor at Corpus Christi in 1979. He was allowed to live there and continue to live there after his retirement in 1987. Corpus Christi, like St. Anthony and three of the other parishes where he worked, operates its own elementary school.

Lawsuit Filed Against Archdiocese in 1993

The alleged victim whose mother was persuaded against pursuing criminal charges against Rucker filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese in 1993, alleging childhood sexual abuse and negligence. Two years later, the priest settled the lawsuit with a confidential $20,000 payment.

The woman, now 44, is angry that parishioners of the Pacific Palisades church were never told of the accusations or the settlement.

"I put the archdiocese on notice that he was living at a parish with a school," said the woman, who lives in Northern California. The Times does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse without their permission.

"Everyone at that parish should have been told," the woman said. She filed the lawsuit, she said, after archdiocese officials "told me to keep my mouth shut" when she asked that church members be warned about Rucker.

"I was incensed," the woman said.

Tod Tamberg, archdiocese spokesman, confirmed the 1967 police investigation of Rucker. "There were no allegations in years following that investigation. He was living in retirement at Corpus Christi when he left," Tamberg said in a statement.

Rucker now lives at Nazareth House, an assisted-living facility for priests in West Los Angeles.

He is one of five retired priests ousted from the ministry by Mahony since February. The cardinal also removed two active priests, the Rev. Michael Wempe, who was working as the chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and the Rev. Carl Sutphin, associate pastor of the new downtown Los Angeles cathedral. Wempe also lived at a parish that operates a school.

The allegations against Rucker are contained in a 1967 El Segundo police report. Rucker told police he did nothing wrong, the report said, and the girl denied being molested.

But days later, the girl's mother said her daughter told her, "Father Rucker has been touching me where he should not," according to the police report.

Rather than press charges against Rucker, the mother told police she had spoken to Bishop Manning, who later became Los Angeles' cardinal, and "he would like the church to take care of the matter, and he would see that it was done properly," the police report said.

The police report includes the woman's signed refusal to file charges. "I just want the father helped and feel the church can best do it," the mother wrote.

An unidentified parent in the same 1967 police report alleged that a daughter of hers was molested by Rucker. That second girl told detectives that Rucker "looks away and talks about things as if he is not doing it," according to the police report.

That girl also told police she saw another youngster molested--identifying the girl who years later sued the priest. Two other girls told police the second girl was prone to "to make up stories," the report said. El Segundo police said they cannot determine the outcome of the other allegations.

Four days after police closed the case, the archdiocese transferred Rucker to St. Teresa of Avila in Los Angeles.

He was transferred seven months later to Holy Trinity in Los Angeles and then to Holy Cross church in September 1968. He went on to St. Agatha church in Los Angeles in July 1970. In 1979, the Iowa native became pastor at Corpus Christi.

Judge Cited Statute of Limitations

Rucker was known among members of the wealthy Pacific Palisades parish for his love of music. He helped persuade a donor to buy an expensive church organ.

He was sued, along with the archdiocese, in 1993 by the woman who alleged that he had molested her between June 1966 and May 1967. In the lawsuit, she said her memory of events had been suppressed until 1991, when another alleged victim of Rucker told her of a similar experience.

The woman's attorney in a court filing warned the archdiocese that Rucker was living a parish with a school. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed the case against the archdiocese in July 1994, citing the statute of limitations.

Rucker's attorney denied the allegations and argued that the woman was suffering from false memories created by a therapist. Rucker later settled his part of the lawsuit in October 1994, paying $20,000 without acknowledging any misconduct, according to those familiar with the settlement.

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