DA looking into abuse allegations against local priests

June 20, 2002|By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

The Imperial County Deputy District Attorney's Office will be investigating eight child sexual abuse allegations involving Imperial Valley priests.

Hindering the investigation is the fact the allegations may date back more than two decades, involve priests who have died or are no longer in the Valley, and alleged victims who may not be willing to come forward.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, which includes Imperial County, this week submitted 23 child sexual abuse cases to the San Diego District Attorney's Office. Eight of those were reported in Imperial County.

Last week, U.S. Catholic bishops meeting in Dallas adopted a zero-tolerance policy in which all priests who molested children would be permanently removed from any church ministry. They also vowed openness and cooperation with investigators.


Imperial County Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen said Assistant District Attorney Joe Beard talked to an attorney from the diocese Wednesday, who have said the diocese will send them information on those eight allegations in the next few days.

She said she doesn't know much about the allegations, but they reportedly involve five priests two of which might already be deceased.

"We will look into every case, regardless if the priest is dead or has moved away," said Owen. She added she doesn't know how old the cases are.

Owen and an investigative team from the DA's Office will attempt to locate all the victims in every case to get a statement from them.

She said that might be hard because some of the victims might be adults now. Also, some might not want to give a statement.

"We're not going to force people to provide statements if it's going to be detrimental to them. We would certainly encourage them to provide a statement," she said.

"We would also provide them any psychological help if they need it," she added.

No molestation cases involving priests have ever been filed in Imperial County, although there have been some allegations.

The most notable matter involved a 16-year-old hitchhiker, who accused a Holtville priest, the Rev. John Daly, of molesting him on Aug. 17, 1977.

Daly, who died in 1989, was arrested at the time but never charged. Daly left the Valley shortly after the alleged incident.

Owen said there have been some church-involved individuals such as volunteers and youth leaders that have been arrested and convicted for child abuse in the Valley.

"I would imagine it would be the hardest thing for any one to disclose they have been molested by a priest, out of any religion, because of the response and the power," said Owen.

She also encourages individuals who have been victims of molestation to contact their local police department and report it.

She said there is a statute of limitation of six years but under a law passed in 1995 by the Legislature, it allows authorities to file a case a year after it is reported, even if it is reported after the six year limitation.

For more information contact the DA's Office at 482-4331.

>> Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

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