Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Suspect priests not monitored

Recent news about a decades-old local case of sexual abuse by a priest has victims' rights advocates asking why no one is monitoring clerics, including the Rev. Kevin Barmasse, who have been suspended but never prosecuted over child-abuse accusations.

Barmasse is one of 34 clerics and other church personnel, dating back to the 1950s, whom the local diocese has identified as having "credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving a minor" against them.

He is also one of 15 clerics and other church personnel on the list who are still believed to be alive and are living freely without any monitoring by diocese or civil authorities.

Barmasse and the others were never criminally convicted, though last week the Pima County Attorney's Office confirmed that it had opened a criminal investigation into Barmasse's actions because of new information from two men who say he abused them during the 1980s.

Fourteen of the clerics and other church personnel on the diocese's list are now dead, and five have been prosecuted and sent to prison or jail.

Paul N. Duckro, director of the diocese's Office of Child, Adolescent and Adult Protection, said local law enforcement has reviewed the cases of all the people on the diocesan list. But he said the diocese does not have the resources to monitor the suspended priests or personnel.

That means Robert C. Trupia — a former monsignor whom the local diocese has called a serial predator and who was removed from the priesthood by the Vatican — could be living anywhere in the United States and possibly working with children, though the accusations against him are easily found through a Google search of his name.

"The church is not set up to do extensive monitoring. Even adult probation struggles with that. There is not a civic organization I can think of with those kinds of skills and resources," Duckro said.

"The names are easily accessible, and police departments have access to the information. Certainly the information is not lacking."

Many of the clerics and personnel on the list were never prosecuted because no one reported the abuse to authorities within the statutorily allowable time. And not all of them are believed to have committed offenses that would technically fall within the definition of a crime.

The diocesan standard for "credible" is that the abuse not only could have happened but probably did happen. That's a lower standard than that of the criminal justice system's "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board determines who will appear on the list, and the bishop has final say.

Duckro said all the priests on the diocese's list have been either suspended or removed from ministry, which is a preventive measure.

"Most predators do not jump out of the bushes. They really do so from a position of authority, whether in a family or volunteer role. Taking a person out of ministry reduces their access," Duckro said.

"Secondly, by making people aware of what has happened through the list, it makes people more alert."

Dioceses continue to pay a stipend to suspended priests and also offer them psychological counseling.

David Clohessy of the national Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests says dioceses could consider ways to monitor the suspended priests.

One idea is threatening to withhold stipends unless the priests agree to monitoring.

"A tiny percentage are behind bars. A tiny percentage fled the country or are missing, and a handful of dioceses put these guys in a church housing facility," Clohessy said.

"But the overwhelming majority are living in unsuspecting communities."

The dangers are real. Clohessy pointed to a case of a suspended priest from the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., who pleaded guilty last month to molesting a teenage boy over four years between 2002 and 2005 in Syracuse, N.Y. Francis G. DeLuca was originally suspended from the Delaware diocese on an accusation that he abused children there during the 1960s.

Psychologists and other experts generally place the recidivism rate for sexual offenders at 17 percent. Even 1 percent is too much, Duckro emphasized.

Clohessy worries that there are not enough checks and balances to ensure suspended priests don't reoffend.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops does not track how many U.S. priests have been suspended, but Clohessy says between 800 and 900 have been suspended in the last five years.

"With the passage of time and with what I call creeping complacency, and in the absence of newer charges, I think more people are inclined to believe that suspended priests are either innocent or cured," Clohessy said.

Barmasse was ordained a priest for the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1982 after graduating from St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif. His assignments in the Diocese of Tucson were at St. Andrew the Apostle in Sierra Vista from 1983 to 1986, at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on Tucson's Northwest Side between 1986 and 1988, and at Blessed Sacrament in Mammoth from 1988 to 1991.

Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas wrote in a letter to parishioners in 2003 that the Tucson diocese accepted Barmasse for ministry with the understanding that he would get treatment related to an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Documents show Barmasse got treatment, and the professional who treated him believed he would be able to minister safely, yet urged caution.

Kicanas, who became bishop of Tucson in 2003, said Barmasse should not have been allowed to minister in Tucson or anywhere else, and that such an arrangement would not be allowed today.
Barmasse left the local diocese in 1991. He remained a priest of the Los Angeles Archdiocese during his time here. He was removed from ministry in 1992 and is now living in a Los Angeles suburb. He could not be reached for comment.

"A tiny percentage are behind bars. A tiny percentage fled the country or are missing, and a handful of dioceses put these guys in a church housing facility. But the overwhelming majority are living in unsuspecting communities."

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