After a Los Angeles judge agreed on Monday (7/16/07) to the $660 million settlement between 508 individuals and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, several plaintiffs stood outside the courthouse in front of a throng of television and newspaper reporters. Many told incredibly sad and horrific stories of the immense suffering they've endured over the years as a result of the despicable abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy.
But what about the priests who have adamantly denied the charges made against them and whose cases may never have had any evidence against them? This past week the Los Angeles Times and others have been largely silent in this regard.
For example, Msgr. Manuel Sanchez from Sacred Heart Church in Pomona, CA has been accused of brutally raping an 8-year-old boy in 1981. His accuser came forward in 2003.
The Los Angeles Times first covered the case in February of 2004, and here's what the Times wrote at the time :
[Rev.] Manuel Sanchez of Sacred Heart Church in Pomona said Friday that he did not even know his accuser. "I am completely innocent of the charges," the priest said. He said he learned of "this terrible accusation" six months ago and believed that his accuser was either "looking for money or he sincerely confused me with another person." (link)
A couple of years later, in March of 2006, the case was covered in Southern California's Daily Bulletin:
[Msgr.] Sanchez read a brief statement declaring his innocence during a Sunday service.
In the statement he denounced the accusations as "100 percent untrue."
"I repeat to you, with God as my witness, that I am completely innocent of this claim of totally immoral and repugnant behavior," the statement said. (source)
Most notably, in 2003-2004, an oversight board studied the allegation and found that "the evidence did not support the charges." Msgr. Sanchez was allowed to continue in his service. (*See new info below.) Despite the board's finding in 2004, it appears that the man continued with his suit against the Archdiocese and will be receiving a settlement. Indeed, the accuser is the only individual to ever come forward with an allegation against Rev. Sanchez. (See a list of the accused here.) (I found a bit of information on the life of Msgr. Sanchez in this 2004 article.)
By no means am I challenging the veracity of the accuser's claim. (My fear in writing this article is that people will say that I am "calling the victim a liar" or "defending a child rapist.") The abuse of any child is simply vile. The abuse by priests upon those in recently decided cases has been undoubtedly real, angering, and contemptible. (The actions by Michael Wempe, for one, have been nothing short of abominable.)
But what I am saying is that claims of innocence by accused priests have been virtually invisible in the recent coverage by the Los Angeles Times and other media. (If there's been anything in the last week, I've missed it. If you've found such a report, please leave it in the comments below.)
The tone of the recent coverage has been so that there is a presumption that each and every accused priest from the recent settlements is unquestionably guilty.
Since 1930, about 244 individuals (priests, deacons etc.) in the Los Angeles archdiocese "have been accused of sexual misconduct involving a minor" (source). In all certainty the majority of the accused priests are guilty of their heinous crimes. However, about 25% of the accused are deceased; many have been unable to defend themselves. In addition, the vast majority of alleged incidents go back decades.
As disgraceful as these reported crimes have been, it would be enlightening for the media to report that there are priests like Msgr. Sanchez who have vehemently denied their accusations and have proclaimed their innocence. Considering the immense scale of this story and the length at which this has gone on, wouldn't that only be a fair thing to do?
[* - UPDATE: 7/20/07, 7:01PM PDT: Yes, Msgr. Sanchez originally was allowed to return to service in 2004. However, I have just learned minutes ago that the oversight board later removed the Reverend from ministry pending further investigation. Msgr. Sanchez reportedly retired in 2000 (source).]