Defrocked priest says church covered up molestations

By Brad A. Greenberg
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 11, 2005 - A defrocked Catholic priest who served in Loma Linda and Ontario claims church leaders protected his pedophilic behavior by passing him among parishes.

Edward Anthony Rodrigue, an admitted serial molester, claims in court papers that he was allowed to continue working at churches despite numerous complaints of sexual abuse.

His statements were filed by plaintiffs’ lawyers Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego. Another declaration by a former police officer claimed the Rev. John Daly was moved to San Bernardino County in exchange for prosecutor’s keeping secret his sexual indiscretion.

Both statements, and those made by countless people who claim they were sexually abused, support lawyers’ claims that, for decades, Catholic bishops have protected deviant priests, further endangering children.

J. Michael Hennigan, lawyer for the San Diego diocese, said Rodrigue’s statements were disturbing and cast a pall over former Bishop Leo Maher, who died in 1991.

‘‘But they are one perspective of a very troubled man who is now an inmate at a penitentiary,’’ Hennigan said.

Rodrigue, 68, has been convicted twice of molesting minors – two young boys in Ontario in 1979 and an 11-year-old developmentally disabled boy in Highland in 1997. He is serving a 10-year sentence at Corcoran State Prison.

When Rodrigue was moved to St. George Catholic Church in Ontario, San Bernardino and Riverside counties were overseen by the Diocese of San Diego.

In 1978, the two inland counties became the Diocese of San Bernardino.

The declarations were filed Tuesday to oppose a request by California’s Catholic bishops that the court overturn a 2002 law, which allowed roughly 800 people to sue, claiming abuse by priests.

The church argues that allowing the suits – some that claim abuse happened in the 1950s – is unfair because witnesses and documents are no longer available.

Also submitted was a statement by a former police officer in Holtville, who in 1977 arrested Daly on suspicion of orally copulating a 16-year-old hitchhiker.

Walter Lundstein, the arresting officer and now a lawyer based in Escondido, claimed a prosecutor told him Maher had offered to move Daly out of Imperial County if the district attorney didn’t prosecute.

According to church rosters, Daly, now dead, served at Immaculate Conception in Colton from 1978 to 1981.

Hennigan said he was unaware of that claim. The spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, the Rev. Howard Lincoln, said Wednesday that he had no knowledge of Daly and declined to comment about whether Maher had identified the Inland Empire as a refuge for pedophile priests.

However, he condemned Rodrigue’s admitted behavior.

‘‘There is clarity of 20/20 hindsight in all of this. We are very sorry for the actions of Anthony Rodrigue. His conduct was reprehensible and tragic,’’ Lincoln said.

According to Rodrigue’s court statement, he was accused of sexual abuse during three decades:

In 1976, after a group of parents said their boys had been molested by Rodrigue, he was sent to a treatment center in Massachusetts. But the beds were full and instead he was sent to Our Lady of Soledad in Coachella.

In 1977, the San Diego bishop transferred him to St. George in Ontario, where in 1979 he told a colleague a student had seduced him. He was given a vacation and sent to therapy. Later that year he pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting two boys. Again he was sent for treatment.

In 1981, he was allowed to serve at St. Joseph the Worker in Loma Linda. Rodrigue was removed from ministry in 1982, Lincoln said, and defrocked of his priestly orders in 1991.

And in 1998, he was convicted of sexually abusing the Highland boy.

‘‘The Diocese (of San Diego) made it policy and practice to transfer pedophile priests to where they could hurt more kids,’’ said Joelle Casteix, southwest regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ‘‘They denied it and denied it. But we are slowly getting proof it is true.’’

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