Authorities arrested a former Jesuit clergyman Wednesday on charges of sexually abusing a minor in a case that goes back three decades, to when the alleged molester was a volunteer chaplain at Santa Clara County juvenile hall and ran a Los Gatos home for wayward boys.
Wellington Joseph Stanislaus, a popular figure who was known as “Brother Stan” to county juvenile workers and to residents at his Novitiate Home for Boys, was arrested by Santa Clara County district attorney’s investigators and booked Wednesday on two felony charges of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy in 1969.
Authorities believe Stanislaus victimized others, whose testimony will play a crucial role in the case, said Victoria Brown, a prosecutor in charge of the district attorney’s sexual assault unit.
Jesuit officials acknowledged Wednesday that the Roman Catholic order had twice reassigned Stanislaus to new duties involving young people, each time after he was accused of sexual misconduct with boys.
The first accusations of inappropriate conduct involved two students from Bellarmine College Preparatory school in San Jose, where Stanislaus volunteered as a track coach in the late 1960s. After the students complained that Stanislaus made inappropriate overtures on a retreat, Jesuit officials ordered him to leave Bellarmine but allowed him to start a residential program for troubled boys in Los Gatos.
Sent to Phoenix
Almost two years later, after authorities investigated allegations of sexual abuse at the boys’ home and threatened to indict Stanislaus, the Jesuits transferred him to work with a youth program in Phoenix in 1971. No criminal charges were filed, but Jesuit officials dismissed Stanislaus from the religious order in 1972.
Allowing someone accused of abuse to continue working with minors might seem wrong today, acknowledged the Rev. Alfred Naucke, a top official in the California Province of the Society of Jesus, which supervises Jesuits in several western states. Stanislaus belonged to the Jesuit order as a brother, but was not an ordained priest.
“The wisdom of 2003 would be horrified with the wisdom of 1970,” Naucke said. But he added that such allegations were often kept quiet.
Word of Stanislaus’ arrest after so many years came as bittersweet news to two men, now in their late 40s, who said their emotional wounds have never healed from sexual abuse they say Stanislaus inflicted on them when they were teenagers.
“My stomach kind of sunk,” said a 49-year-old San Jose man, who added that he felt sorry for Stanislaus but was happy to hear authorities were taking action.
The man, who prompted the current investigation by writing a letter to police last year, said he blames years of drug use and other problems on a lack of self-confidence that began after Stanislaus allegedly fondled him several times in the late 1960s.
For privacy reasons, the Mercury News does not print names of sexual abuse victims unless they choose to be identified.
Another alleged victim, who agreed to be identified by the first name Chuck, said he felt elated, angry and sorry for the former clergyman, who was well-liked and admired by the boys who lived with him.
“Even though he’s been arrested and charged, he hasn’t been convicted,” said Chuck, a 49-year-old Hollister resident. “And I still have to live with what he did to me. They don’t make a pill to erase memory.”
Like the other alleged victims, Chuck said he had been a ward at the county’s juvenile hall when Stanislaus arranged for him to live with a handful of other boys at the home in Los Gatos.
Both men said they were afraid to tell anyone about the alleged abuse at the time because they felt loyal to Stanislaus, and because they were afraid they would be sent back to juvenile hall if they “rocked the boat.”
A spokesman for the Santa Clara County Probation Department, which operates juvenile hall, said the department has no record of Stanislaus. But several retired probation officers remembered him as a volunteer chaplain who was widely respected for his rapport with troubled teens.
There was an open secret in the Los Gatos home, said several boys who stayed there. At night, when the boys were ready for bed, Stanislaus would call one of them into a room for a talk. That’s when the fondlings and other molestations allegedly occurred.
Stanislaus, 58, who has denied the allegations to authorities, declined to speak with a reporter on Wednesday. He was being held in lieu of $80,000 bail.
Formal charges were filed late Tuesday afternoon, after district attorney’s investigator David Hewitt tracked Stanislaus to Modesto and confronted him last week.
While court records show investigators spoke with four alleged victims, Brown said she filed charges in connection with only one because the statute of limitations expired for some of the alleged offenses.
State law suspends the statute of limitations for certain types of sexual abuse involving minors generally, the more serious types of abuse provided authorities file charges within a year after learning about the incidents. In this case, court records show the district attorney’s office has charged Stanislaus with oral copulation and sodomy of one victim, who was 16 at the time.
The alleged victim, who is now 50 and lives in another state, told investigators he has “vivid memories” of being molested, but he was afraid to tell anyone until he went through counseling for a drug problem a few years ago.
Brown said her office expects to use testimony from the other alleged victims, as corroborating evidence, which is required in older cases.
In some ways, authorities acknowledge, the passage of time hindered the investigation. Some of the several dozen boys who had stayed at the home have moved out of state. Some developed drug or alcohol problems and spent time in jail. At least five have died.
One former resident of the home told the Mercury News he didn’t believe the allegations. The 49-year-old San Francisco resident, who asked not to be identified, said Stanislaus was strict but kind, and treated the boys as a parent would.
But Brown said she believes prosecutors can make a compelling case: “Any victim who reports something 30 years after the fact is still feeling the effects of what occurred 30 years ago and that can be very powerful.”
The current investigation was launched by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department after the 49-year-old San Jose man wrote a letter to local police last year.
Complained to aunt
As a boy, he had been disturbed enough by Stanislaus’ actions to tell an aunt about what he described as repeated sexual fondling. Court records show the aunt complained to authorities in 1970 or 1971.
Several boys who were living at the home recalled that police went to the campus of Los Gatos High School, where they were enrolled as students, and asked them whether there was any sexual misconduct at the home.
The boys all denied anything was wrong. Two of them now say they did so because they feared being sent back to juvenile hall.
Exactly what happened next is unclear. Brown said she hasn’t found any case file or report of any law enforcement investigation conducted at that time. But documents filed in court this week show that when sheriff’s detective Guy Kuyot questioned Jesuit officials about Stanislaus last year, they showed him a personnel file containing several references to allegations of misconduct.
The file included a 1971 letter from one Jesuit official to a superior in Rome, according to Kuyot’s report, which summarized the letter as saying “that the DA had called, and said that if Stanislaus was not transferred, an indictment would be sought.”
Naucke, the Jesuit official, said the records from that time are vague. But he confirmed that Jesuit officials transferred Stanislaus to Phoenix. They also apparently closed the Novitiate Home for Boys, which took its name from the Novitiate Center the name then used for a retreat in the Los Gatos hills that the Jesuits now use as a home for retired clergy.