Santa Rosa Bishop to disclose accused priests’ names
Santa Rosa Bishop Robert F. Vasa has pledged to release the names of Catholic priests with ties to the diocese who have been accused of sexually abusing children, but said he wants to wait until after the holidays to join other California bishops making similar disclosures.
Vasa, bishop in the sprawling Santa Rosa Diocese for the past seven years, said he expects to reveal about 23 names, many already known to the public because of lawsuits, settlements and other disclosures dating back more than 20 years and costing the diocese more than $29 million.
“I want to say ultimately as I stand before Almighty God, that I protected the names of people presumed to be innocent, and that I was as transparent as I could be for the support of the victims,” he said.
A handful of those clergymen expected to be included will not be familiar to local parishioners, most likely because the priests were accused long after their local service ended or even years after their deaths, Vasa said. The list will include priests whose alleged misconduct occurred outside the Santa Rosa Diocese, he said.
The planned disclosure would follow similar moves recently in other California dioceses amid a resurgence of concern about long-held secrets kept by the church. A damning investigation completed this summer in Pennsylvania identified more than 300 priests said to have abused at least 1,000 children around the state over seven decades.
Vasa said his research reveals roughly 95 involved victims locally, about 55 of them victimized by just three priests — who he called “clearly the bad actors.”
He said it would probably be January before he makes the list public — after the Christmas holidays and after he has had ample time to vet the names with advisers, including two retired judges who are among the region’s parishioners and who have been enlisted by the diocese to help determine which names can be released legally, given California personnel confidentiality laws.
“I want to make sure that once I present the list, it as complete and final as I can make it,” he said. And “I don’t want to do anything during Advent and Christmas.”
An early scandal
The Santa Rosa Diocese emerged early on as an epicenter in the church’s long-running child molestation scandal that erupted nationally in 2002. The first in a wave of local cases hit in 1994, when the victim of a later defrocked priest named Gary Timmons came forward to allege misconduct.
Timmons, once pastor at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Rohnert Park, among others, eventually faced civil and criminal charges involving abuse of as many as 18 young people, some of them molested at youth camp or in parishes in Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties. He would later serve four years in state prison and is required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.
The Santa Rosa Diocese has paid out more than $29 million in settlements to childhood victims of at least 10 abusers since the 1990s. About $12 million was covered by insurance, so the diocesan share was just under $17 million, Vasa said this week.