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Recorder Used in Priest Probe

May 2, 2002 | Los Angeles Times

An alleged victim of priestly sexual abuse said Wednesday he wore a hidden recording device to confront the cleric in an effort to help prosecutors and detectives develop evidence against the priest.

The move was intended to overcome statute-of-limitations problems that could compromise prosecution in some cases of priest abuse, a law enforcement source said. It demonstrated the difficulty authorities face in cases in which the alleged crime is often a decade or more old.

Jeff Griswold, 31, who asked that The Times publish his name, said he made his story public because he is frustrated by state statute-of-limitation laws and the possibility that his complaint against an Azusa priest won't be prosecuted. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Wednesday that Griswold's allegation against Father David Granadino, who until recently worked at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church, is one of 18 investigations of 16 Catholic priests involving about 50 victims. It was the first accounting by the Sheriff's Department. The Los Angeles Police Department has said it is investigating 50 allegations of priestly abuse.

Sgt. Dan Scott of the department's Family Crimes Bureau said some of the cases stem from years-old allegations and that some could fall victim to statute-of-limitations laws.

Currently, there is a 10-year statute of limitations on cases involving most types of molestation of children 15 and younger. However, prosecutors can pursue these older cases if they have "clear and convincing" contemporary corroborating evidence. Examples include additional victims, a confession, letters or diaries--and evidence of substantial sexual conduct, Scott said.

In Griswold's case, Scott said, no decision has been made about whether to move ahead with criminal charges. However, sheriff's officials were privately upset that an alleged victim had taken his case to the media before they completed the investigation.

Griswold, a Norwalk resident, told sheriff's investigators in December that he had been sexually abused by the priest beginning when he was 13 and continuing into his early 20s. Detectives also are investigating allegations by two others against Granadino that allegedly occurred beginning more than 15 years ago.

The Sheriff's Department opened a second investigation into sexual abuse accusations against Granadino in March, after an alleged victim reported the abuse to the Los Angeles Archdiocese's hotline.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has said he moved Granadino from St. Frances of Rome after that anonymous allegation was made. Sheriff's detectives have interviewed about 100 children and adults in that probe.

When the allegations became public, Granadino was transferred to a retreat at an abbey south of Palmdale. Detectives say they have not interviewed the priest, and they say his attorney has told them he has "relocated" from the abbey to an undisclosed location.

Sheriff's officials said they were unsure when the archdiocese was notified about the December allegations.

Asked whether the archdiocese was cooperating with the Sheriff's Department, Scott said he had "no comment."

Granadino, who is also a Sheriff's Department chaplain, has "forcefully denied any misconduct," according to an exchange of e-mails by top archdiocese officials. His attorney, Don Steier, said, "Father Granadino is upset, but more upset for what is going on in his parish than for himself."

Scott would not confirm the contents of the recording Griswold made but added, "We aren't going to deny what the victim said about helping us."

Griswold, who conducted media interviews in the Irvine office of attorney Katherine K. Freberg, said he wore a small tape recorder--disguised as a pager--while meeting with Granadino in the rectory of St. Frances of Rome.

Griswold said he began the short conversation with the priest by saying, "I'm trying to understand some things that happened in the past."

He said he went on to detail some alleged molestations and the priest replied: "It's not your fault."

Griswold said he didn't remember the priest apologizing, but recalled the priest saying more than once, "It's not your fault. It's my fault."

He said he made contact with the police Dec. 10, before a national sex abuse scandal erupted in Catholic parishes across the country. Griswold said he came forward after receiving "a gift from God" that told him to make sure other children would not be molested.

"I finally realized what [Granadino] did was wrong," Griswold said. "It was time. I didn't want any other kids to be hurt."

Griswold said his father died when he was 7, and when he was a young teen, Granadino, then a priest at St. John of God Catholic Church in Norwalk, became like a second father to him. He said the priest took him to dinners, movies and on overnight trips.

Griswold said the relationship continued even after Granadino was transferred to parishes in Pacific Palisades and Azusa.

"He told me, 'You're my godson,'" Griswold said. "He told me that he loved me. My father wasn't around. He definitely filled the father void. I just didn't understand it."

Sheriff's officials and prosecutors would not comment on whether Griswold's case would be harmed by the disclosure of the recording device. Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Katz, who works in the sex crimes unit, said prosecutors won't discuss the case until they decide whether to press charges.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has forwarded the names of at least eight priests removed from the ministry this spring to police as well as several others reported to its hotline.

On Monday, Mahony and the archdiocese were named in two racketeering lawsuits filed by four men who allege that they were molested as boys by the Rev. Carl Sutphin.

They allege church officials promised to remove Sutphin from the church in 1991, but instead transferred him to the new downtown cathedral before forcing him to retire recently.

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