Despite an apology and a plea for mercy, a St. Anthony’s Seminary priest who admitted molesting a choirboy was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison.
Father Robert Van Handel, handcuffed and wearing the red jail jumpsuit of a sex offender, told the court he was sorry for sexually molesting the 14-year-old while he was leader of the Santa Barbara Boys Choir.
The Franciscan priest pleaded guilty in May to lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Zonen sought the maximum eight years in prison.
“This is a man who had been molesting children for two decades. We have no way to know how many children he had access to and molested,” Zonen said.
Superior Court Judge Patrick McMahon reviewed court documents, probation reports, letters and Van Handel’s diary in which the priest described being sexually aroused by watching boys singing in the choir.
The judge reprimanded him for his betrayal of trust, saying he used his position of power to feed his pedophilia.
Van Handel was the second priest convicted of sexually molesting children at St. Anthony’s Seminary, a boarding school for high school-age youths. The downtown seminary, run by the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church, closed in 1987.
A panel organized by the Franciscans released a 72-page report in November detailing blatant sexual abuse at the seminary, including fondling, nude games and sexual encounters in the rooms of friars. Twelve friars allegedly participated, the panel said.
Van Handel apologized to his victims and said he accepts responsibility for the molestations. He was only charged with one molestation because the statute of limitations had expired on those crimes, Zonen said.