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Radio Call Prompts Priest's Removal

Apr 9, 2002 | Los Angeles Times

A priest has been removed as head of a Santa Barbara County seminary and reported to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for allegedly molesting boys during wrestling matches more than a decade ago at a Catholic school in La Canada Flintridge.

The Rev. Christopher Kearney, a former teacher at St. Francis High School, was removed from his position as guardian of the San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez two weeks ago and reported to sheriff's deputies, said Father Gregory Coiro, spokesman for Capuchin Franciscans.

Kearney, 59, has been sent by the order for "an evaluation," Coiro said, and could not be reached for comment. His removal was prompted by an anonymous call last month to the Tom Leykis radio talk show, Coiro said. The caller alleged that Kearney, who taught at St. Francis from 1970 to 1995, molested him while the two were wrestling at the school several years ago, Coiro said. Kearney was transferred from St. Francis in 1995, after allegations he had molested another student during an impromptu wrestling match two decades earlier. Coiro said the school paid an out-of-court settlement to the former student but would not disclose the terms because of a confidentiality agreement. The case was not reported to police, Coiro said, because "our legal counsel determined it was not necessary" at the time.

"However with the latest allegation, the archdiocese [of Los Angeles] thought it was appropriate to report it to the Sheriff's Department," Coiro said. Sheriff's Department officials confirmed they received the report, which was filed at the La Crescenta station, but would not comment further.

Kearney's removal comes weeks after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles fired eight priests who had been involved in past molestations. The Capuchin Franciscans operate independently of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which covers Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The order staffs churches, schools and seminaries.

Kearney's case was mentioned in one of dozens of e-mails among top archdiocese officials obtained by KFI-AM radio last week and given to The Times.

An archdiocesan official said: "Father Kearney used to supervise Saturday detention. Kids could get [to] leave early if [they] would wrestle with him. The winner was the one who could grab the other's testicles while wrestling," according to a March 22 e-mail from Monsignor Richard Loomis to other archdiocese officials.

The archdiocese alleges the e-mails were stolen, and the FBI is investigating. Attorneys for the archdiocese failed last week to have a judge block publication of the e-mails in The Times. KFI officials said the e-mails came from an anonymous source.

Kearney did not have contact with minors at the seminary in Santa Ynez, Coiro said, and there are no allegations of misconduct there.

"He was doing internal ministry and very little external ministry in the parish," Coiro said. For a decade the seminary has been a retreat for priests and no longer has novice students. A few residents of nearby Solvang attend Mass there, he said.

St. Francis officials said in a March 26 letter to parents that there have been no molestations reported at the school since Kearney's departure.

"As you are aware this is a very unpleasant time for the Catholic Church," the letter began. The letter told parents about the anonymous call to the radio show and explained the 1995 allegations against Kearney, saying school officials were striving "to balance compassion for the individual with concern for the common good."

"At that time the situation was dealt with swiftly and appropriately. [Kearney] was immediately removed from St. Francis High School," wrote Father Matthew G. Elshoff, school president, and D. Allen Lund, chairman of the board.


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