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Panel Finds Priests Sexually Abused 34 Boys at Seminary

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

Thirty-four boys were sexually abused by a dozen Roman Catholic priests during decades of nude games, fondling and sex acts at a now-closed seminary, a panel organized by the Franciscan order concluded Monday.

“The abuse perpetrated by our own brothers on the victims and their families is truly horrific,” said Joseph P. Chinnici, provincial minister of the Oakland-based Province of St. Barbara and leader of Franciscans in seven Western states.

“We totally abhor what has occurred,” Chinnici said.

An independent panel was set up in January by the St. Barbara Province of the Franciscan Order to examine molestations from 1964 to 1987 at St. Anthony’s Seminary, which operated a boarding high school for aspiring priests in Santa Barbara County.

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Twelve priests at the downtown Santa Barbara seminary were identified as offenders. The seminary opened in 1898 and closed because of financial problems in 1987.

During a news conference Monday night at the Goleta Valley Community Center, the chairman of the six-member board of inquiry said the panel was stunned by the results of the investigation.

“We found that in the years in question, a serious problem of sexual abuse of minors by friars existed at the seminary,” said Geoffrey Stearns.

Of the 12 priests, whose names were not disclosed in the 72-page report, one left the order, one died of natural causes and another’s case with the board is still open.

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A fourth was criminally prosecuted for oral copulation with a minor in 1989 and was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading no contest. He was released after six months.

After that case, other boys came forward with abuse allegations and the order decided to launch an investigation. The panel organized by the Franciscans included an attorney, three psychotherapists, a member of the order and a parent of one of the victims.

The remaining eight priests are being treated by therapists, the report said.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of the Los Angeles archdiocese, released a statement stressing that the seminary does not fall under the jurisdiction of the archdiocese. But he said that archdiocesan officials reviewed the report and support the Franciscans’ efforts to bring the problems to light so that future abuses do not occur.

The Franciscan friars were involved in a variety of offenses, including nude games, nude photographs, fondling, masturbation and oral copulation.

Most of the youths in question were ages 14 to 16. But some victims, siblings of the older victims, were believed to have been as young as 7.

“When the process first began, I was under the impression that there were only a few cases of sexual abuse at the seminary. I was wrong,” said Chinnici.

“It is not easy, and we acknowledge this terrible truth in a public way because the public trust has been violated. . . .

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“To the victims and their families, I want to express on behalf of all the friars our most profound apologies. The report gives graphic testimony to the humiliation, loss of faith and betrayal of trust.”

The investigation into the sexual abuse will continue, Stearns said. “We believe there will be other victims that will come forward when they are ready and able.”


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