Retired priest accused of sexually abusing boys
A retired San Bernardino priest is facing accusations he sexually abused at least five boys during his 24 years at Aquinas Catholic High School and has been relieved of his ministerial rights.
The Diocese of San Bernardino, in emails and letters sent this week to the school’s alumni, revealed that Father Robert J. Donat, who now lives in retirement in Los Angeles County, was being accused by an alleged victim of sexual abuse. Church officials deemed the accusation “credible.”
The diocese, which alerted police to the allegations, asked all former students who might have information to contact church or police officials. The alleged abuse mentioned in the emails and letters occurred on an out-of-state trip.
Donat, reached at his Torrance home, declined to comment.
Because the alleged incidents happened in the 1970s, it is unlikely Donat would be charged. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that older molestation cases — those occurring before 1988 — cannot be pursued because they are beyond the statute of limitations.
Rebecca Rhoades, an attorney for a person who alleged he was abused in 1973, said she spoke to “five victims” who said they’d been abused when they were between the ages of 15 and 17. Rhoades said they provided the names of other potential victims.
Donat “was at the school a long time,” she said.
The alleged abuse occurred on road trips with the priest, as well as inside the church rectory and the priest’s car. “He would groom the boys, calling them his special friend,” Rhoades said.
John Andrews, a spokesman for the diocese, said church officials are aware of only one alleged victim, and that person was a student at the school in 1973.
Donat was relieved of all priestly duties about six weeks ago after the diocese learned of the allegations.
According to the diocese, Donat served as pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Montclair from 1993 until his retirement in 2006. He previously lived at the former St. Anne Parish, now Our Lady of Hope, and at St. Bernardine Parish, both in San Bernardino.
Church statements on the allegations against Donat were read at Masses this week. Parishioners were asked to report any suspected abuse by Donat or other church officials to (888) 206-9090 or local police.
Though he wasn’t in regular ministry during the last five years, Donat may have visited parishes and medical facilities in the area.
Donat was ordained in 1966 and served in the Diocese of San Diego for three years before coming to San Bernardino.
Joelle Casteix, a spokeswoman for Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, called on diocese officials to make public everything they know about Donat.
“It takes an extreme amount of bravery for a victim to come forward and report abuse by a trusted priest and high school teacher,” Casteix said.
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