It is unfortunate that he has been guilty of improper actions on two or three occasions … but how many priests are there completely blameless over a period of 10 years?”
The above words were penned in 1980 by Juan Arzube, a now-deceased bishop in the Catholic Church’s Los Angeles Archdiocese, which governs parishes in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties. Arzube wrote to Rome pleading that Father Willebaldo Castro be allowed to transfer home to Mexico and remain in the ministry following the latest allegation of the priest’s sexual deviancy.
That time, according to the letter, Castro had been arrested after approaching a security guard—presumably for sex—in a Pomona department store bathroom, but previous troubles include a vague “moral charge” from his early years in Mexico and the accusations of molestation of teenage boys in Los Angeles and Santa Maria—incidents that were described in his private clergy file and made public with the recent release of 12,000 pages detailing the church’s internal handling of 128 priests accused of abuse.
The release stems from a 2007 settlement of 508 lawsuits that blamed 194 priests and bishops in the L.A. Archdiocese for the sexual abuse of underage victims. The church agreed to pay $660 million, an average settlement of $1.3 million per victim, and a federal judge ordered that the files on accused clergy be made public, with privacy protections built in for victims. At first, members of church hierarchy were also to be protected, but another judge later ordered that their names be included as well. The files were collected, redacted, and finally made available on the L.A. Archdiocese website Jan. 31, 2013.
Along with the documents, Cardinal Roger Mahony, now retired from administrative duties but still serving as a church leader, issued a statement that describes his personal visits with roughly 90 victims, whose names he keeps on 3-by-5 cards on the altar of his chapel. Also included is the name of the priest who abused each victim, a reminder that a real clergy member inflicted his or her suffering. He offers them daily prayers, he said, and takes full responsibility for his failure to keep them safe.
“It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life-journey continues forward with ever greater healing,” Mahony wrote. “I am sorry.”
According to an archdiocese spokesperson, four of the accused clergy members had ties to Santa Maria: George Michael Gallagher, Albert Joseph Duggan, Richard Albert Hartman, and Castro. At some point in their careers, all had served at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church. The first three named in the list are now deceased and had served in Santa Maria for quick stints decades ago. No local victims alleged any abuse by those men. Only Castro, who was an associate pastor in Santa Maria from 1976 to 1980, was accused of molesting local boys.
Castro worked at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Los Angeles for the previous four years, until a 16-year-old boy and his family told church authorities that Castro had placed his hands inside the youth’s undergarments. After repeated interviews, the boy’s story “remained unshakeable,” according to Rev. Monsignor John A. Rawden. In a subsequent letter signed only by the initials JAR, an unnamed church official wrote that Castro claimed the boy had misunderstood the priest’s paternal manner.
“I would recommend that if there is no further activity on the part of the boy or his family, that Father C. be quietly transferred to another parish,” the unnamed official wrote.
That other parish was Santa Maria.
Within a year of his arrival, a local teen accused Castro of inappropriate behavior, but the nature of the abuse wasn’t specified in Castro’s file. Instead, officials noted that the results of a lie detector “proved that the boy was lying.” The mother of the boy reportedly apologized for humiliating Castro, and the boy recanted as well.
In 2009, an adult from Santa Maria alleged that Castro had molested him while on a missionary trip to Mexico sometime between 1979 and 1980. The accuser was 14 years old during the trip, but by the time the allegations were made, no one in the church knew where Castro was living.
He’d left the archdiocese and returned to his hometown in Mexico after reportedly being arrested for approaching the security guard in a Pomona department store—“but,” a letter from Timothy Cardinal Manning, then Archbishop of Los Angeles, notes, “the other party was a male adult.” “Adult” is underlined for emphasis.
Arzube, Manning, and other church officials repeatedly praised Castro’s work as a priest and noted that “aside from this problem,” he was a credit to the church. After every report of an incident, someone pleaded for authorities to show Castro mercy and recommended treatment, transfer, or admonishment—but never punishment. Officials seldom discussed the potential impact of the alleged abuse on victims.
Another accused priest, Father Bernard Brian Hanley, served as an associate pastor at La Purisima Catholic Church in Lompoc from 1963 to 1965. In 2002, a woman who grew up in the parish reported that Hanley brought her into his room when she was 4 years old and masturbated with his back to her.
“What stuck out as a child for me is a vision of God with an erection,” she said in interviews with the Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board. “As a child, when I’d pray, that’s all I would see.”
The woman’s mother reported that Hanley was friendly with her husband and would come to the house sometimes to drink beer and chat. The alleged victim had always seemed surprisingly frightened of Hanley, and she told her parents about the abuse when she was 19, according to her mother.
They didn’t believe her. The victim said she buried the memories until they resurfaced decades later in therapy.
Her 40-year-old recollection of the church’s rectory wasn’t accurate, however, and her brother quickly chimed in with his own allegations of forced sodomy at Hanley’s hands. The oversight board that reviewed their claims deemed them inconsistent and unreliable. In 1965, Hanley returned to Ireland, where he continues to minister according to church documents.
The Monterey Archdiocese, which oversees parishes in San Luis Obispo County, hasn’t been subjected to any major lawsuits or forced to reveal clergy files in a manner similar to the L.A. Archdiocese, but Monterey officials promptly revealed the names of two accused priests upon request.
Father Alberto Battagliola was alleged to have molested a minor in 1970 while working at the Old Mission Church in San Luis Obispo. The diocese settled with the victim, but Battagliola died before reports were made and escaped potential criminal prosecution. Father Gregory Kareta, also deceased, was accused of molestation stemming from his time at St. Paul the Apostle parish in Pismo Beach. The diocese was released from the resulting lawsuit because Kareta was under assignment from another religious order.
No clergy abuse has been reported in Northern Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties within the last five years. Most of the abuse detailed in the L.A Archdiocese clergy files is decades old, but very few reports were made prior to 2001, when the scandal suddenly broke. In the following years, the Bishops of the United States met and adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which includes a zero-tolerance policy against clergy abusing their parishioners.
Before the charter, church officials admitted that they treated abuse as a sin or maladjusted thinking that could be treated. Now, officials have pledged to treat abuse as a crime. Also, any clergy, people, or volunteers who work with children under the auspices of the church are required to undergo criminal background checks, and the children themselves are taught in Sunday School how to stay safe and get help if abused, according to Peter Stemp of the Monterey Archdiocese.
With the recent selection of a new pope—the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, officials expressed optimism that the church could address the scandal and move past it.
“The pope is a sign of unity,” Deacon William Ditewig of the Monterey Archdiocese said. “People are still drawn to their relationship with God. A loss of faith in the institution or administration of the church does not equate to a loss of faith in its teaching or Almighty God.”
USA Today reported on March 20 that in a recent and lengthy discussion with a Latin rabbi, Bergoglio said any priest accused of sexual abuse should be removed from the ministry while an investigation takes place. He also noted that the discipline of priestly celibacy could be changed. ∆
Staff Writer Nick Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.