Archbishop left abusive priest in pastor’s job in California

Church official now leads Vatican agency on assault

By Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press / April 29, 2010

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The pope’s hand-picked replacement to oversee abuse cases at the Vatican did nothing to restrict a California priest after learning in 1995 that the priest had molested a 13-year-old boy a decade earlier.

Cardinal William Levada, then archbishop of San Francisco, said in a 2005 deposition obtained by the Associated Press that he did nothing and did not contact police because he trusted the Rev. Milton Walsh would not re-offend and his predecessor handled the case adequately.

There were no known allegations of later abuse by the priest and a Vatican attorney says Levada acted appropriately under standards of the time.

When Levada learned of the abuse, Walsh had been pastor for six years at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, a parish of about 1,000.

He remained there for two more years and was removed from active ministry in 2002, when US bishops passed a “zero tolerance’’ policy on sex abuse and police inquires began.

Levada is now the highest-ranking American at the Vatican and head of the office that removes pedophile priests from ministry. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger held the post before he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

The Vatican’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, says Levada handled the case properly by the era’s norms, which have evolved significantly in recent years. The Holy See told bishops this month they should report abuse to police rather than keep cases quiet as had been the practice for decades.

“One thing the law teaches: It is fundamentally unfair to apply standards of conduct retroactively,’’ Lena said. “And yet, even if one were to do so, it must be acknowledged there was no re-offense by the priest. So in this case, the old approach did work.’’

Meanwhile, a priest in Brazil is facing charges he abused eight boys in cases dating back to 1995, prosecutors said yesterday, adding to a list of allegations against clergy in Latin America.

The Rev. Jose Afonso, 74, is accused of abusing altar boys between ages 12 and 16, São Paulo state prosecutors said in an e-mailed statement.

Prosecutors said the reported abuses occurred in the city of Franca, about 250 miles north of São Paulo city. At least one case was reported in the state of Minas Gerais. Afonso remains free while a judge decides whether he should be jailed.

Church officials were not available for comment.