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Sacramento’s Catholic diocese to release names of priests accused of sex abuse

‘The letter was stupid and naive.’ Bishop Soto’s regret for supporting convicted priest

In 1986, then-auxiliary bishop Jaime Soto wrote a letter of support for his former classmate Chris Andersen after he was convicted on 26 felony counts of child molestation. Now, as bishop of the Sacramento Diocese, Soto talks about his regrets.
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In 1986, then-auxiliary bishop Jaime Soto wrote a letter of support for his former classmate Chris Andersen after he was convicted on 26 felony counts of child molestation. Now, as bishop of the Sacramento Diocese, Soto talks about his regrets.

The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento plans to release the names of priests accused of sexual abuse, a move in line with a greater reckoning within Catholic communities across the United States as stories of extensive abuse and decades-long cover-ups continue to surface.

According to the diocese’s spokesman Kevin Eckery, staff members are “quite methodically” going through the personnel files of more than 2,000 priests that have come through the diocese in the last 50 years. They intend to release the list “sooner rather later,” he said — within as early as a few weeks.

“All personnel files have lots of different things, not just good stuff and bad stuff, but receipts,” for example, Eckery said. “There are lots of pieces of things and you need to put it in the context of, ‘has there been any abuse?’”

The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, which includes 20 counties in Northern California and more than 100 parishes, oversees more than 1 million Catholics in the region, according to the diocese’s 2018 directory.

The announcement follows similar statements from California dioceses such as the Diocese of Oakland and the Diocese of San Jose. The churches are reacting to a nearly 900-page Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August that found bishops and other church leaders covered up the widespread child sexual abuse of more than 300 priests over a 70-year period.

“They need to double- and triple-check not releasing someone’s who shouldn’t be released,” Eckery said, “and not releasing a name that should’ve.”

This is not the first time the Sacramento diocese has been forced to come to terms with sexual abuse in its ranks. Last year, a woman filed a lawsuit against the diocese claiming church officials ignored her requests for help when a priest allegedly pursued her romantically and sexually assaulted her. And in 2013, a Sacramento Catholic priest, Uriel Ojeda, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old girl.

The most explosive case for the diocese, however, was in 2005, when it agreed to pay $35 million to settle 33 sexual abuse cases against 10 priests in the diocese.

“This sort of thing should not have happened. It must not happen in the future,” then-Bishop William Weigand said at a news conference at the time. “It is totally contrary to the mission of the church and to the calling of any priest and any other worker in the church.”

The Bee reported then that the names of nine out of the 10 priests were released, with one priest remaining anonymous because allegations made against him were cleared by an independent diocesan review board. Eckery said more priests will likely be identified after the current review.

“There were 10 on that list but that list is too small to be historically accurate” or comprehensive, Eckery said.

Bishop Jaime Soto has been public about his past complacency in shielding fellow priests accused of sexually abusing minors, and the need for diocese to boost transparency and take all complaints of sexual misconduct seriously.

“When these cases arise I have to act and put my own fears aside to do what’s right,” Soto said in an interview with a Bee columnist last month. “I first have to listen, to let people express their stories.”

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