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Santa Rosa bishop says priest served on North Coast after 1987 molestation case in Texas

A Roman Catholic priest who served on the North Coast after he was accused of sexual misconduct in Texas has been added to the Santa Rosa Diocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of child sex abuse on the basis of the 32-year-old molestation case from San Antonio.

Jose Luis Contreras, believed to be 78, is not known to have acted improperly while posted in California, where he served between 1995 and 2000 before returning to Mexico, Santa Rosa Bishop Robert F. Vasa said.

The Santa Rosa Diocese had no knowledge of the 1987 accusation against Contreras when he came to the region from Tepic, Mexico. He had left the United States for Mexico in the wake of the sex abuse allegation. After joining the Santa Rosa Diocese, Contreras served at Saint Elizabeth Seton in Philo, Mendocino County, Vasa said. He would later serve in Crescent City, as well.

Vasa said Contreras’ Santa Rosa files include no reference to his misconduct, but rather include several letters of praise, and that those other priests who remember him were shocked by the news.

“It comes actually as shock out of the blue,” Vasa said. “I don’t know any other way to express it.”

In keeping with the protocol used to assemble the list, Vasa added Contreras upon learning he had been named in the San Antonio Archdiocese’s Report on Child Sexual Abuse by Clergy.

The report was published Jan. 31, three weeks after Vasa released his own list of 39 credibly accused priests. Vasa was only recently informed the San Antonio list included someone who had served locally, he said.

“As I become aware of other dioceses that publish names, I have no hesitancy about updating our list, and I certainly want to keep it current as possible because that was my commitment, and I intend to stand by that,” the bishop said.

Ordained a priest in Mexico in 1967 as a member of a religious missionary order called the Claretians, Contreras served in the San Antonio Archdiocese from 1983 to 1988.

In his last assignment in Texas, he served as a chaplain at the Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, where he was accused in 1987 of touching a 17-?year-old patient’s genitals, the archdiocesan report says.

Contreras’ assignment was terminated, and he was sent for psychiatric evaluation and treatment, according to the report.

When he completed it in 1988, he was no longer allowed to practice priestly ministry in San Antonio and told his superiors he was returning to Guadalajara, Mexico, to live with his sister, the report states.

The archdiocese stated it had had no further communication with Contreras and had not been able to contact him while preparing its report.

Vasa said that when Contreras came to the Santa Rosa Diocese, he had a letter of recommendation from the Diocese of Tepic, in the state of Nayarit. It contained no mention of the 1987 accusation in Texas.

Contreras lived in Fort Bragg while serving at St. Elizabeth Seton for two years, Vasa said.

According to church directories, he later did a stint in 1998 as a chaplain at the Washington State Reformatory near Seattle, before returning to serve at St. Joseph Parish in Crescent City.

He served there until June 2000, when he returned to Mexico, Vasa said.

A growing number of Catholic dioceses in the United States have published reports on priests accused of child sex abuse under pressure to come clean about misconduct and criminal acts long covered up as a matter of course, in part through secret settlements and transfers of offending priests without the knowledge of parishioners they served.

Vasa, called to Santa Rosa in 2011, inherited a painful legacy of scandal and abuse, as well as payouts now totaling about $33 million in legal settlements to victims. About a third of it was covered by insurance, he said.

In assembling the diocesan list last winter, he said he erred on the side of disclosure to underscore the diocese’s interest in transparency, accountability and healing.

He included 39 priests and deacons in the initial accounting, and later added two more who were brought to his attention.

He added Contreras after he was contacted by a Houston newspaper reporter covering the issue in Texas who brought to his attention the fact that Contreras was on the San Antonio list.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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