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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A California bishop is under fire for persecuting priests that don't go along with his political agenda.
Bishop Jaime Soto, of the diocese of Sacramento, California, has been accused in a recent report of persecuting orthodox priests while protecting homosexual ones. Bishop Soto is an outspoken supporter of immigration rights, has called for sanctuary cities and supported Pope Francis' climate change narrative, he has also hosted pro-abortion and pro-LGBT politicians at the cathedral.
Church Militant spoke with David Leatherby Sr., a notable Catholic in the diocese and the father of ten children, 30 grandchildren and 44 great-grandchildren. One of his sons, David Leatherby, is a deacon. He has two granddaughters who are nuns and one grandson, Fr. Jeremy Leatherby, is a priest.
Leatherby Sr. said Fr. Jeremy is a very holy priest and was an exorcist in the diocese before Bp. Soto suspended him - many claiming unjustly. "In this diocese, traditional priests are misused, they're treated very poorly," he said. "The guys that aren't following the teachings of the Church, they're getting protected."
Leatherby Sr. explained that in 2016, his son, Deacon Leatherby, had a housekeeper approach him after she caught a pastor in bed with another priest. She was frightened by the experience and ended up moving out of Sacramento after the priest called her and "scared her to death."
At that time, Deacon Leatherby approached a diocesan administrator to tell him the story, but instead of support, the person "blew up at him." Two days after that meeting, Deacon Leatherby was removed from his ministry, and two days after that, Fr. Jeremy was facing an accusation of inappropriate conduct and "given two hours to move out of his rectory."
Father Jeremy was accused of having a sexual relationship with a woman and was suspended from active ministry pending an investigation. Though he was never officially told who his accuser was, multiple sources told Church Militant they knew who she was and described her as "troubled." A report in FlashReport claims sources said she was "in an abusive marriage and had developed an obsession with Fr. Jeremy."
Kevin Eckery, the spokesman for the diocese of Sacramento, confirmed that Fr. Jeremy's faculties were revoked "pending the conclusion of any subsequent investigation or legal proceedings." The investigation has been ongoing for two and a half years.
Leatherby Sr. said Bp. Soto will not respond to Fr. Jeremy's canonist nor allow a hearing. The two priests the housekeeper found in bed together are still in their parishes, he noted.
Eckery said he would "reject outright" the accusations that Bp. Soto panders to abusive priests. He cited their "very strong policies" for dealing with and preventing abuse of minors.
Bishop Soto was the auxiliary bishop under Bp. Tod Brown for the diocese of Orange when the diocese paid out a $100 million settlement to 90 accusers of sexual abuse in 2005. That abuse spanned the years between 1936 and 1996 and involved 31 priests, 10 lay personnel, two nuns and one religious brother.
Eckery dodged the question of whether Bp. Soto was named in those court documents that alleged several Church leaders covered up abuse and kept abusive priests active.
"Is it possible that Bp. Soto was named in a court document? Yes, but ... he was a priest and later an auxiliary in that diocese, not the ordinary," Eckery said.
John Manly, a lawyer for 30 of the plaintiffs, said the diocese did little to stop the abuse even though they were aware of the scope of the problem.
"They were certain these people were going to molest again, and they did," he said.
Court records showed Church officials objected to the release of thousands of pages of documents detailing the abuse. One of the victims, Joelle Casteix, said, "the extent of the cover-up is unbelievable. Many men who are still in ministry today, and some who are bishops, conspired to conceal the crimes and keep molesters in positions where they could still molest children."
The New York Times reported that Church documents released under the settlement showed "several church officials either actively concealed the actions of abusive priests or sought lesser punishment for them." The report further detailed the involvement of Bps. Norman F. McFarland and William R. Johnson, both former bishops for the diocese of Orange.
The former auxiliary bishop, Michael P. Driscoll, the former bishop of Boise, Idaho, was also shown in the documents to have participated in the cover-ups. It noted, "Several other top church officials were also involved."
One of the priests that was protected was Andrew Christian Andersen, one of only two priests in the diocese of Orange to be convicted of sexual abuse. Andersen was first accused in 1983, but Bp. Johnson only ordered therapy and left him in his position directing altar boys. Three years later, Anderson was convicted of 26 felony counts of child molestation, and instead of being sentenced to 56 years in prison, he was sent to a Catholic rehabilitation center in New Mexico.
During the trial, both Abp. George Niederauer, the archbishop of San Francisco, and Bp. Soto wrote letters to the judge testifying to the character of Anderson. Bishop Soto wrote his after Andersen's conviction and was sympathetic to Andersen, even downplaying the crime:
Our work brings us into intimate contact with people's lives. In a time when the exchange of simple affection within the most intimate of circles has become a rare commodity, our associations with others run the grave risk of being misunderstood by all parties including perhaps the priest himself.
Bishop Soto also advocated for other "remedial means of dealing with the case at hand as opposed to extensive incarceration." Four years after Anderson was sentenced to rehabilitation, he was arrested in Albuquerque, New Mexico and was sentenced to serve six years for probation violation on suspicion of trying to sexually assault a 14-year-old boy.
Bishop Soto's role in the sex-abuse cover ups in the diocese of Orange did not go over well with the faithful in the dicoese. One opinion piece, "Goodbye, Bishop Soto, and Good Riddance," written in 2007 when he left the diocese of Orange, called him a liar for claiming they were "one of the most transparent organizations" with regard to sex abuse.
Leatherby Sr. said the moral of the priests in the diocese is abysmal and many can't wait to retire. He said there is no congeniality among priests and this translates to empty pews. He lamented that they haven't had one single local boy enter the diocesan seminary in years.
Leatherby also wants Bp. Soto to publicly express his true motives and said, "he needs to become a person that is lovable, not hated." He suggested to Bp. Soto that he pray with his grandson and hopes that "he put him back as a priest soon."