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Priest Convicted on 26 Counts of Molesting Church Altar Boys

Times Staff Writer

A Roman Catholic priest waived his right to court proceedings Monday and was convicted by a judge of 26 counts of molesting four altar boys at his Huntington Beach church.

In a complicated and unusual proceeding, Father Andrew Christian Andersen, 34, said he didn’t want to go through a preliminary hearing and a jury trial. Instead, his lawyer asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas to decide his guilt based only on investigative reports from the Huntington Beach Police Department.

“I just want to thank all of my family and friends and parishioners for their support,” Andersen said before fleeing the courthouse after Cardenas’ ruling. “I look forward to continuing with the judge’s recommendations and taking the appropriate responsibility for my actions and the opportunity for rehabilitation. . . . I feel remorse and sorrow over this whole matter.”

Lengthy Sentence Possible

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As a result of the convictions, Andersen could serve up to 58 years in state prison.

Although Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael C. Koski called the proceeding “tantamount to a plea of guilty,” Andersen’s attorney said the legal maneuver is not an admission of guilt.

“We’re not entering a plea at all,” attorney William M. Monroe said. “We’re saying to the court, ‘You read the police reports, and you make up your mind. . . . ‘ “

Andersen took the unusual route, Monroe said, in an effort to avoid the “circus atmosphere” of a trial and “to get it behind us, get through with the pain this has caused Father Andersen, the parish and the diocese, and get on with our lives.”

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Andersen, who has been a priest at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church since 1982, was charged last April with fondling three altar boys on 24 separate occasions between February, 1985, and March, 1986.

Contacted by Mother

A Huntington Beach police spokesman said at the time that the mother of a 13-year-old boy contacted authorities and reported “that her son, an altar boy of St. Bonaventure church, was allegedly being sexually molested by a priest from the same church.”

Three additional victims surfaced during the subsequent investigation. The 26 charges correspond to 26 different instances of alleged sexual abuse.

Neither the Diocese of Orange nor St. Bonaventure church officials could be reached for comment.

Andersen did not wear his clerical collar to court Monday. Dressed in a blue blazer and gray wool slacks, he looked more like a lawyer than a priest. And although the details of the procedure took the entire day to arrange, the actual hearing lasted only 20 minutes.

After ensuring that Andersen had willingly waived his right to a trial, Cardenas delivered his decision: " . . . Very sadly but necessarily so, I must find you guilty of the 26 counts in the information and do make that finding.”

Evaluation Ordered

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But the judge stopped short of sentencing Andersen, although the priest had requested that the entire proceeding take place on one day. Instead, Cardenas read from a sentencing report, referred to the recommendations of the county Probation Department and ordered Andersen to undergo a 90-day psychiatric evaluation at the California Institution for Men at Chino.

“There is in this subject’s case a deeply pathetic example of the dilemma society confronts when it has a person who has done much good in his life but in whose illness has been the perpetrator of substantial harm,” he read before ordering the priest back to court Dec. 16 for sentencing.

Between 10 and 15 of Andersen’s former parishioners had waited patiently through several hours of delay to hear the verdict, and when it came, most were stunned.

Dorothy Gilmore, Huntington Beach, was in court just in case the priest needed a character witness, she said. In her handbag she carried a card for Andersen inscribed, “Though our paths have taken us in different directions, you are still a part of my life, and I wish you happiness.”

“If I was called, I’d just want to say what a devoted and wonderful priest he is,” Gilmore said. “He was always our friend and a consultant to us and a good confessor, and we just know he’s innocent. He’s too intelligent. What would he have to gain, and what would he have to lose? All that wonderful priesthood.

“Why, I never even saw him put his arm around a boy.”

“This is a tragedy,” said Cynthia Doe, 38, of Huntington Beach. “I know that Father Chris is innocent and he’s thinking of us and not of himself. This is the result of a very bad law. It’s all relative to who suspects and reports, like short and tall. Even a touch is relative.”

Pat Cormack of Huntington Beach was more skeptical. “I’ve been following the trial,” she said, “just watching for facts. I think he’s done the right thing. It’s going to spare a lot of embarrassment, a lot of hard feelings for the kids.”

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