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Parents of molested sons tell of alienation from the church.

SANTA BARBARA - Two parents whose sons were molested by Franciscans here said they were disappointed with the official Franciscan response to their sons' accusations.

"I would describe it as slow and inefficient," said one mother. "Now that it's open, they want all the praise and glory. What happened to our children amounted to highway robbery of their childhood."

A medical professional and self-described "very committed Catholic," the aggrieved mother said she and her family no longer attend church. "I have had to redefine everything in my life. For me, it's a whole new spiritual identity."

She also wants to know the HIV status of the perpetrators, something the final report recommends but cannot enforce because of confidentiality issues.

It has been a year since the registered letter arrived from the Franciscan provincial informing parents that the former founder and director of the Santa Barbara Boys Choir, a Franciscan friar who was also rector at the St. Anthony Seminary high school, had been accused of molesting a choir member 12 years earlier.

"When you find out your kids are involved, you hit ground zero," one mother told NCR. "We had no knowledge of our sons' involvement until the letter arrived." That letter, originally mailed to parents of choirboys, was later mailed to parents of more than 900 former seminary students. Parents of choir members were a closely knit group, she recalled. "We were aware of a previous incident in 1989 when a friar pleaded no contest to one count of oral copulation and was sentenced to one year in the county jail, but I'd no idea our sons were also victims."

"The friar implicated by our sons was very close to us," she remembered. "He used to visit our home often and we often asked his advice about raising our sons. He told us he had studied child psychology but in truth he was a history major."

The parent of another victim reported, "Our history as a Catholic family has changed forever. We were as mainline Catholic as you could get. Our lives centered around St. Anthony's (high school). It's horrible to have your religious identity taken away from you."

She said she was stunned by the silence and denial of church authorities. "I have written to at least two cardinals about this. We wanted a pastoral response. Whenever we tried to reach the hierarchy we got a legalistic |protect the corporation' response. The touch of Christ heals. The corporate touch kills. The bottom line is: Who are we trying to protect? Denial is blocking victims from coming forward and getting the help they need."

Like several other parents, this mother was openly critical of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony's lack of response and the archdiocese's lack of compassion.

Mahony, through Mgsr. John Rohde, Santa Barbara area episcopal vicar, told the meeting when the inquiry board report was presented that the high school fell under the Franciscan's jurisdiction, but that Mahony supported the review process and the province's efforts to identify perpetrators and provide therapy and support to victims. Rohde said he did not rule out the possibility of Mahony meeting with parents and community later.

Parents and community members were also rebuffed in their efforts to have a clergy sexual abuse and child molestation program included in the archdiocese's huge annual religious education conference.

Religious education office director Sr. Edith Prendergast said she received the parents' letter too late for this year's conference, that the proposed 90 minutes was insufficient time to discuss such a "sensitive and complex" issue, and that "this is a religious education conference, not an issues conference."
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Title Annotation:Santa Barbara, California
Author:Johnston, Rosemary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 17, 1993
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