CRESPI PRIEST OUSTED SCHOOL REMOVES PRESIDENT AFTER FINDING EVIDENCE OF SEXUAL ABUSE.
The Rev. Dominic Savino, president of Crespi high school in Encino, was removed from his post in the past week after an investigation by his Carmelite order found evidence supporting allegations of sexual misconduct with teen-age boys, the Daily News learned Friday.
The allegations involve 10 boys, mostly 16- and 17-year-olds, including two students at the Roman Catholic high school in Encino and a youth who attended church at St. Jane Frances Dechantal parish in North Hollywood. The incidents occurred between 1966 and 1979, Carmelite officials said.
The investigation began March 14 when a complaint was reported on the new sexual abuse hotline set up by Cardinal Roger Mahony for the Los Angeles Archdiocese as the Catholic Church was being rocked by sex scandals.
Savino was removed immediately from the 470-student high school by his superiors with the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary of the Order of Carmelites after they interviewed the priest over the weekend and determined there was enough evidence to believe the charges were credible.
``We found truth (in the allegations),'' said the Rev. Dan O'Neill, treasurer of the order's sexual misconduct advisory board, which is based in Darien, Ill. ``There was some inappropriate sexual contact with minors. I can't name the specifics.
``He's extremely remorseful. ... His life as a functioning priest is in great jeopardy.''
Crespi parents were informed by letter Friday that Savino had been removed.
The letter signed by the order's head, the Rev. Leo McCarthy said:
``Last week, an allegation of inappropriate behavior involving two minors some 23 years ago was made against Father Savino. At the time of the alleged incident, the minors were Crespi students and Father Savino was a member of the faculty. In the course of investigating this initial allegation, the Province learned of several past incidents of sexual misconduct with minors, who were not Crespi Carmelite High School students.''
The religious order's investigators believe Savino was involved in eight incidents with 10 teen-age boys. They include five separate incidents with five teen-age boys while he was a minister at De Sales High School in Louisville, Ky., between 1966 and 1973. De Sales officials could not be reached for comment Friday.
Three more incidents occurred in Southern California, and included two Crespi students, a teen from St. Jane Frances Dechantal, an unknown teen-age boy and the person who was the subject of the tip called into the hotline, O'Neill said.
Deacon Richard Morgan at the North Hollywood church said Savino hasn't been at the parish for a couple of decades.
``I was absolutely stunned,'' Morgan said when he received a copy of the letter announcing the allegations. ``You hear about it in Boston and Miami, and it just seems to be coming closer and closer.''
At Crespi, teachers and students said they were shocked and confused by the allegations.
The popular priest was known for remembering students' names and achievements, his friendliness and sense of humor.
``I can't imagine him doing it. He was a real nice guy,'' said Cliff Yuguchi, 15, of West Los Angeles.
Matt Sarradet, 14, of Topanga Canyon, who was among a group of students playing ``Magic: The Gathering,'' a fantasy trading-card game, at a picnic table added, ``He was nice. He was energetic. Always into the school spirit; always trying to get everyone to participate. I'm gonna miss him.''
Crespi spokesman the Rev. Joe Fitzgerald, alumni relations director and himself a former student, said Savino had been president since June 1, overseeing the entire operations of the school.
``We reached a point where it was time to communicate with the school as to what was going on. There is reason to believe there is something to substantiate the charge,'' Fitzgerald said.
Counseling was provided for students Friday afternoon following a 12:45 p.m. assembly, and also will be available Sunday between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the high school.
The Rev. Augustine Carter, the founding principal of Crespi, will take over as acting president.
Savino, who was described in the letter as having been ``very cooperative'' with investigators, could not be reached for comment. A person at his home in Arleta said the priest had not been there in about a week.
O'Neill, the order's sexual misconduct advisory board spokesman, said Savino was contacted by his superiors over the weekend in Las Vegas, where he was attending a seminar on anger management, and subsequently interviewed when he returned.
Savino remains under ``daily, constant supervision'' with no contact with students nor any ministry duties until he can be evaluated for treatment at Southbound Institute in Toronto, O'Neill said.
The Los Angeles Police Department also was informed of the allegations, he said.
LAPD spokesman Lt. Horace Frank confirmed ``some information'' on Savino had been received and had been forwarded to the department's juvenile division for review.
District Attorney Steve Cooley's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said prosecutors haven't yet been told about the case.
Archdiocese of Los Angeles spokesman Tod Tamberg said hotline allegations are turned over to the accused priest's religious superiors, but that the archdiocese retains the final authority to decide whether a priest can ever return to the local ministry.
``The Archdiocese of Los Angeles does not have the specific information about this investigation,'' Tamberg said, adding he's only reviewed the letter sent to Crespi parents. ``However, these allegations are serious and we're saddened by them. We offer our prayers for the victims.''
The Carmelite order, which also has ministries in Canada, Mexico and Peru, operates the school as part the archdiocese's educational system but is independent of the cardinal's direct authority.
The charges that Savino sexually abused minors is yet another among the burgeoning pedophile scandals within the Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II on Thursday for the first time released a letter saying that ``our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination'' and succumbed to evil have cast ``a dark shadow of suspicion'' over all priests.
O'Neill said the call to the archdiocese's hotline appeared to involve indiscreet behavior at an undisclosed location, but that it led to a string of other incidents in which the sexual misconduct charges proved credible.
Those allegations included a ``pool party'' in San Diego attended by two Crespi boys and a third teen-ager.
The religious order's investigators said there had been allegations against Savino in the late 1970s, but that they never reached the top tiers of the order for review.
In 1979, Savino sought counseling ``on his own initiative,'' O'Neill said. Savino's biography says he left Crespi in 1986 to get his doctorate in psychology, becoming a California state licensed psychotherapist in 1990 - returning to Crespi in 1995.
``He self-corrected, as it were,'' O'Neill said. ``The allegations came forward then unbeknownst at this level, and he went for therapy for a couple of years. He's lived an honorable life since.''