Urging an investigation by state authorities, a local lawyer said 10 to 12 predatory priests have not been acknowledged by the San Diego diocese.
In September, the diocese added eight men to its list of priests “credibly accused” of molesting minors, bringing the total then to 51. That roster is incomplete, maintained San Diego attorney Irwin Zalkin, who said he has been contacted by victims whose abusers have not been publicly identified.
“I can tell you that we know of at least 10, if not a dozen, additional priests that are not on the list,” said Zalkin.
“I call on the California attorney general, Xavier Becerra, to initiate grand jury proceedings. You cannot trust this diocese to be transparent. We need an independent investigation.”
Zalkin, who said his firm is still investigating several of these claims, named three priests who are not on the diocese’s list:
- The Rev. Michael Higgins, who was suspended from his priestly duties in the 1980s after “soliciting sex in the confessional,” Zalkin said. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s dismissal of Higgins’ defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against then-Bishop Leo Maher.
- The Rev. Gary Holtey, former pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church and Academy, who in 2005 was convicted of possessing child pornography.
- The Rev. Alexander Pinter, who left Ohio in 1960 after being accused of molesting boys, was sent to a treatment center in Canada and then assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Vista. There, Zalkin said, he molested a boy now identified as “John Roe 54.”
A fourth priest cited by Zalkin, the Rev. Justin Langille, was suspended from his clerical duties in October after a diocesan panel reviewed persuasive evidence that he had “inappropriately touched” an adolescent female in the 1990s.
Diocesan spokesman Kevin Eckery said Langille has since been added to its list.
As for the other three, Eckery said that Higgins’ impropriety involved an adult, not a minor, while the diocese has no reports of Holtey touching minors. Both Higgins and Holtey have been laicized, or removed from the priesthood.
As for Pinter, Eckery said, diocesan records show he came to San Diego in the early 1960s, then went to Santa Clara and later considered returning here.
“Nothing in the files shows that an abuse of a minor was every reported to us,” Eckery said about Pinter.
On Monday, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy held the last of eight “listening sessions” at local churches, with parishioners expressing views on the sexual abuse crisis and other church issues. The diocese’s upcoming report on these sessions, Eckery said, will include recommended reforms.
“We’re getting an audited list of the names,” Eckery said, “bringing in an auditor to make sure we don’t miss any names. Where evidence exists that we need to add a name, we’ll add a name.”
Zalkin insisted that the diocese has a conflict of interest in investigating past or present employees. He cited his experience in a lawsuit that ended in 2007 with the San Diego diocese agreeing to pay $198 million in damages to 144 victims.
As part of the settlement, Zalkin said, the diocese agreed to post a list of abusive priests.
“It took us three years to get a partial list,” he said.
He also argued that the “listening sessions” were a public relations dodge. “I’ve had dealings with this diocese before,” Zalkin said. “My view is they are more concerned about protecting their brand than protecting children and making it right for the victims.”
The state, Zalkin said, needs to conduct an independent investigation of the priest files held by all dioceses in California.
“We really don’t have an opinion on that,” said Eckery, the diocesan spokesman. “We will do whatever we have to do to comply with the law.”