Files documenting claims of abuse by California Franciscans made public

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — More than 8,500 pages of material detailing claims of sexual abuse by a group of Franciscan priests and brothers in California were made public May 23.

The release of the documents was one unfinished item of business from a 2006 court settlement that awarded $28 million, the vast majority of it from the St. Barbara Province of the Franciscan Friars and Brothers, to settle abuse claims from 25 plaintiffs.

The province, based in Oakland, used the proceeds from the sale of a closed seminary, where many of the incidents were alleged to have occurred, to help finance the settlement. The high school seminary closed in 1987.

As part of the settlement, the Franciscans agreed to let a judge review for possible public dissemination internal church documents as well as depositions in the litigation, showing how the order handled sexual abuse allegations among its clerics.

None of the six priests and three brothers cited in the documents are in active ministry. Some are dead. Others are living at Franciscan residences and restricted from leaving the grounds unaccompanied.

In the archive are personnel, psychological, confidential and laicization files, as well as witness depositions. One priest wrote a “sexual autobiography” that was included with the release of the files. In some cases, plaintiffs filed applications to amend complaints against some of the priests and brothers.

Other documents include parents’ letters to one Franciscan priest who was jailed for his role in the abuse, to the Franciscan provincial at the time, to then-Bishop Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa, who himself had to resign his post in 1999 because of his involvement in a sexual scandal, and to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, then archbishop of Los Angeles — the archdiocese contributed $2 million to the settlement because some of the acts allegedly were committed at a historic Franciscan-run mission church located in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Also available for review are a social worker’s evaluation of one priest, and a “sexual deviancy evaluation” of another priest who had once alluded to abusing 250 minors.

The Franciscans whose files are in the new online archive are Fathers Mario Cimmarrusti, Robert Van Handel, Gus Krumm, David Carriere, Martin McKeon and Gary Pacheco, and Brothers David Johnson, Samuel Cabot and Berard Connolly.

Van Handel and other defendants had fought the release of the documents since the settlement was announced. The case had reached the California Supreme Court, which ruled against the former Franciscans.

Attempts by Catholic News Service to reach the current Franciscan provincial, Franciscan Father John Hardin, for comment were unsuccessful. The province’s website was silent on the release of the files.

All of the documents are available for viewing at http://bishopaccountability.org/franciscans/.