The Media

Probe shows 30 ‘abusive’ priests shuffled around globe, also to Republic of the Philippines

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: April 16, 2010

RIO DE JANEIRO—There he was, five decades later, the priest who had raped Joe Callander in Massachusetts. The photo in the Roman Catholic newsletter showed him with a smile across his wrinkled face, near-naked Amazon Indian children in his arms and at his feet.

The Rev. Mario Pezzotti was working with children and supervising other priests in Brazil.

It’s not an isolated example.

A priest who admitted to abuse in Los Angeles went to the Philippines, where US Church officials mailed him checks and advised him not to reveal their source.

In an investigation spanning 21 countries across six continents, The Associated Press found 30 cases of priests accused of abuse who were transferred or moved abroad. Some escaped police investigations.

A priest in Canada was convicted of sexual abuse and then moved to France, where he was convicted of abuse again in 2005. Another priest was moved back and forth between Ireland and England, despite being diagnosed as a pederast, a man who commits sodomy with boys.

The pattern

“The pattern is if a priest gets into trouble and it’s close to becoming a scandal or if the law might get involved, they send them to the missions abroad,” said Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and critic of what he says is a practice of international transfers of accused and admitted priest child abusers. “Anything to avoid a scandal.”

Church officials say that in some cases, the priests themselves moved to another country and the new parish might not have been aware of past allegations.

In other cases, officials said they did not believe the allegations, or that the priest had served his time and reformed.

Missionary in Bohol

Joseph Skelton was a 26-year-old student at St. John Provincial Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, in 1988 when he was convicted of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old boy. He was given three years’ probation and dismissed from his seminary.

Two decades later, he lives in the Philippines, where he was ordained a priest and now serves as parochial vicar of the St. Vincent Ferrer parish in the remote town of Calape, in Bohol, according to the diocese directory. He is also a popular gospel singer in the heavily Catholic country.

Reached on his cell phone, Skelton declined comment.

He finished his seminary studies in Manila and was ordained in 2001 in the diocese of Tagbilaran. The bishop who ordained Skelton said he wouldn’t have made him a priest if he had known about the criminal conviction.

“I ordained him because, while there was some talk about his effeminate ways, there was no case against him,” Bishop Leopoldo S. Tumulak said.

Tumulak, who has since stepped down, said it would be up to his successor to reopen the case.

If he has changed...

“The priest is trying to live well,” Tumulak said. “If he has really changed, the heart of the Church is compassionate—although in America, Europe, they have different ways of looking at it. Not the Church, but the government, the people. In the Philippines, it’s a little bit different.”

The archdiocese of Detroit, after learning Skelton had been ordained, sent a letter about his conviction to the Tagbilaran diocese in 2003. Tumulak said he doesn’t remember if he received the letter, and in any case it would have been too late.

Current Bishop Leonardo Medroso said he would investigate. But he added: “The case has been judged already. He was convicted and that means to say he has served already the conviction. So what obstacle can there be if he has already served his punishment or penalty?”

Cured in the jungle

Joe Callander says he was 14 when he was raped three times and abused on other occasions in 1959 at the now-closed Xaverian Missionary Faith High School in Holliston, Massachusetts. The Xaverians settled the case for $175,000 in 1993. At least two other accusations of sexual abuse were leveled against the Rev. Mario Pezzotti in the Boston area.

In the meantime, from 1970 to 2003, Pezzotti was in Brazil, where he worked with the Kayapo Indians. In a note of apology to Callander in 1993, Pezzotti said he had cured himself in the jungle.

“Upon arrival in Brazil, confiding in God’s mercy, I owned up to the problem,” Pezzotti wrote. “With divine help, I overcame it.”

Reached by telephone, Pezzotti, now 75, said only: “I don’t see why I have to talk about it. Everything was resolved and I don’t feel like talking.”

Barred in US

Fr. Vijay Vhaskr Godugunuru was forced to return to India and then was transferred to Italy after pleading no contest to assaulting a 15-year-old girl while visiting friends in Florida. He now ministers to a parish in Tuscany, where he hears confessions, celebrates Mass and works with children.

The bishops supervising him said they were aware of the case but believed he was innocent.

“The evidence that has been given does not support the accusation,” Monsignor Rodolfo Cetoloni, the bishop of the Montepulciano diocese, told the AP.

Godugunuru, now 40, “enjoys the esteem of everybody,” he said.

Godugunuru had been charged with fondling a parishioner in her family’s van in June 2006. He denied intentionally touching her.

He faced up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine but in exchange for his no contest plea was required to return to India, undergo counseling, not supervise minors for a year and not to return to the United States.

‘A popular game’

Clodoveo Piazza is an Italian Jesuit who ran a homeless shelter for street children and worked in Brazil for 30 years.

Last August, prosecutors said at least eight boys and young men had come forward to say either that they were abused by Piazza or that he allowed visiting foreigners to sexually abuse boys. Brazilian police are seeking his arrest.

Piazza now works in Mozambique, according to the Catholic nonprofit Organizzazione di Aiuto Fraterno, and the Church has come to his defense.

“The Italian Jesuits express their solidarity with the brother and father Piazza,” reads one note on the group’s website. It adds that “the slander against missionaries is becoming an increasingly popular game.”

Piazza said the charges were false and part of a campaign to blackmail him by “political circles” in Brazil. He said he had been acquitted of the charges twice in Brazil, and that there is no evidence against him.

Geographical cure

The Rev. Enrique Diaz Jimenez of Colombia was punished three times in three different countries.

He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three boys while a priest in New York in the mid-1980s, and was sentenced in April 1991 to five years’ probation and four months of an “intermittent sentence.”

He resumed work as a priest in Venezuela, where he was suspended from the priesthood in 1996 for 20 years after 18 boys accused him of molesting them.

Diaz returned to Colombia in 1996 and again found work as a priest. Prosecutors say he was charged in 2001 with molesting one more boy and pleaded guilty.

Transferring abusive priests was called “the geographical cure,” according to Terry Carter, a New Zealand victim.

$32K in settlement

Carter won $32,000 in compensation from the Society of Mary, which oversees the Catholic boarding school outside Wellington where he was abused by the Rev. Allan Woodcock.

Woodcock molested 11 boys at four church facilities before being sent to Ireland. He was extradited to New Zealand in 2004, pleaded guilty to 21 sexual abuse charges and was sentenced to seven years in jail. He was paroled in 2009.

He was removed from the priesthood in 2001, a spokesperson for the group said. Associated Press

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