The Rev. John Crews has resigned as executive director of the Hanna Boys Center following an allegation of sexual misconduct with a boy in the 1970s, prior to his arrival at the Sonoma Valley facility for troubled youth.
Longtime friends said they were stunned by the Catholic priest's resignation, which stemmed from a complaint brought by relatives of the alleged victim, who is deceased. Crews' departure was announced Wednesday to staff and students.
The sprawling campus on Arnold Drive has been home to more than 3,400 boys since it opened in 1949. It has become part of the fabric of Sonoma Valley, a community institution known for its good works and wide network of financial supporters. It currently operates on a $10.6 million annual budget and is in the midst of an expansion resulting from an ongoing $15 million fund drive.
"It is a difficult day for Hanna Boys Center," said Kris Van Giesen, chief development and community relations officer for the organization.
Alumni from the center, which enrolls students from Sonoma County and around the Bay Area, have become business owners, military commanders, teachers and rap artists, he said.
Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa said the diocese, which has made missteps in handling child sex abuse complaints in the past and paid millions of dollars to victims, followed church and legal requirements in Crews' case.
The priest, ordained in the local diocese in 1971, handled the situation "very graciously," Vasa said.
Crews, who had run the Sonoma Valley center since 1984, was accused of an "inappropriate relationship with a young man" about 40 years ago, Vasa said.
Crews, 67, agreed to resign in a meeting last week with the Rev. Msgr. Daniel Whelton, the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese's second-highest-ranking official.
Crews will remain a priest in the diocese until he retires, but "will not serve in any other public ministry," the bishop said.
Vasa, who was out of town last week as the situation developed, said that relatives of the alleged victim reported the allegation early in the week and diocesan officials took immediate action, reporting the matter to Sebastopol police.
Prior to his work at the Hanna center, Crews served as a parish priest at St. Sebastian Church in Sebastopol and St. Joseph Church in Cotati, and also served briefly as an administrator at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa.
He has been a chaplain in the Naval Reserves for 25 years and holds the rank of captain.
Vasa declined to elaborate on the nature of the allegation or to say where Crews was working when the alleged misconduct took place.
"We have no reason to believe there are any other individuals involved," the bishop said.
Vasa is spiritual leader of the 165,000-member diocese, which includes 42 parishes from Petaluma to the Oregon border.
Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver confirmed Wednesday that police received a report by phone. Sgt. Mike Nielsen said later that no official crime report had been filed nor any specific investigation opened.
Vasa said that no other allegations against Crews were contained in diocese records. Asked if the diocese had contacted parishes regarding Crews, the bishop said that news reports would accomplish the same purpose.
"If an allegation is received, I treat it as credible until the contrary is proved," Vasa said.
The bishop said he "encouraged" Whelton to meet with Crews.
Vasa declined to relate the details of the meeting, calling it a confidential discussion between "two brother priests."
Crews' resignation was a "mutual meeting of the minds," Vasa said, adding that Crews was left to inform officials at Hanna Boys Center.
"Does it (the resignation) imply guilt? I don't know," Vasa said, suggesting that it could have been Crews' desire "not to have this drawn out."
Van Giesen said he was one of five center officials who met Feb. 7 with Crews, who informed them of the allegation against him and announced his resignation.
Crews did not elaborate on the allegation, nor did he admit to any misconduct, Van Giesen said.
Crews' resignation "was the right thing to do," Van Giesen said. "It was no surprise that he put the center above himself."
Crews' resignation was announced Wednesday, six days after it was submitted, because center officials needed time to assure themselves of the facts and prepare to share the information "with our staff, the boys and the community," Van Giesen
"We are shocked and saddened and take any allegation of this nature very seriously," said Jack Bertges, chairman of the Hanna center's board of trustees.
"We want our supporters and community to know that this alleged incident did not occur during John Crews' tenure at the Hanna Boys Center and that we have no reason to believe that there was any inappropriate conduct between Father Crews and the students of Hanna Boys Center," Bertges said in a written statement.