CA Bishop Jaime Soto Covered Up Gay Sex Abuse

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 8, 2018   

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Court documents from sex abuse lawsuits are exposing the extent to which several California bishops covered up for serial abusers, while faithful Catholics are outraged that known gay priests are still being protected.

Court documents released in the 2005 settlement show Sacramento Bp. Jaime Soto, Bp. William Johnson, then-auxiliary Bp. Michael Driscoll (all in the diocese of Orange) and Tijuana bishop Emilio Berlie all knew and covered up for priests known to be abusers.

By 2009, the diocese of Orange had the distinction of doling out the third-highest payout to victims of sexual abuse in the U.S. Church, topped only by two other California dioceses: Los Angeles and San Diego. In the mid-2000s, these three dioceses alone were ordered to pay over $1 billion to almost 800 victims.

The diocese of Orange had the distinction of doling out the third-highest payout to victims of sexual abuse in the U.S. Church.

While Cdl. Roger Mahony and the diocese of Los Angeles settlement was nationally reported, the court proceedings of the diocese of Orange were not as widely known. Recent reports of Bp. Soto's persecution of whistleblower clergy have renewed calls from "disillusioned" Catholics for him to resign — calls that were first made during his tenure as auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Orange.

Bishop Soto rose through the ranks in the diocese, first as a priest, then as monsignor, until he was made auxiliary bishop. He served for seven years under Bp. Tod Brown. Both were graduates of St. John's Seminary in Camarillo — a seminary tarnished with a reputation for sexual permissiveness. The Los Angeles Times reported that the seminary has "produced a disproportionate number of alleged sexual abusers."

Peter GarciaEleuterio "Al" Ramos [warning: link contains graphic content] and Michael Wempe, all serial abusers of boys, graduated from St. John's Seminary in the 1960s. Former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cdl. Roger Mahony, Bps. Michael Driscoll, Tod Brown and John Steinbock (former bishop of Fresno) also graduated in the 1960s.

In 2007, when Bp. Brown was made the bishop of the diocese of Orange, the OC Weekly blasted him and his new sex abuse policy called "The Covenant With the Faithful." Bishop Brown promised a new era of transparency for sex abuse claims — but failed to disclose that he was personally accused of sexual abuse.

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An unnamed man claimed when he was 12, in 1965, Bp. Brown was a priest in the diocese of Fresno and sexually abused him. 

Documents provided to the OC Weekly showed that both Cdl. Mahony and Bp. Steinbock knew of the allegation against Bp. Brown, who was then the bishop of Boise. Those documents show that Bp. Steinbock dismissed the concerns of the accuser that Bp. Brown could have abused others prior to the completion of the investigation. 

In a sworn deposition from 2007, Bp. Brown said it wasn't up to him to reveal the allegations: "I did not make the allegation public because I knew it wasn't true."


 

During the sex abuse trial that led to the settlement in 2005, the judge ordered some 10,000 internal Church documents to be released relating to the abuse. Diocesan officials objected to the release of confidential personnel files. The documents show the extent of the cover-up perpetrated by those in power, even dating back to when they were priests or auxiliary bishops. 

The case of Fr. Ramos, one of the most notorious abusers in the diocese, showed that then-Msgr. Soto, Bp. Johnson and then-auxiliary Bp. Driscoll all knew Ramos was abusing boys and allowed him to retain his priestly faculties and even allowed him to continue in supervisory roles over children.

Bishop McFarland considers it criminal that he would be allowed to function.

Over a 20-year period starting in 1968, Ramos molested at least 25 boys and girls, and diocesan officials were notified over and over again. Ramos was moved from one parish to the next whenever a complaint would arise. Ramos was even given financial support for ongoing psychological counseling for his attraction to boys.

Eventually, in July 1985, after another allegation surfaced against Ramos, Bp. Johnson transferred Ramos to the diocese of Tijuana under Bp. Berlie. Documents released during the lawsuits in 2005 note that Bp. Johnson wept over the transfer. Others show then-auxiliary Bp. Driscoll's handwritten notes about Ramos where he recorded Ramos' admission of abuse as "wanted to report he had 'slipped' and had an incident with a 17-year-old boy."

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Bp. Michael Driscoll's notes about abusive priest Al Ramos

Bishop Driscoll met with Ramos on July 26, 1985 and noted the boy's parents are "not going legal" but may meet with him or Bp. Johnson. The "disposition" of the case was written as "Al leaving parish (vacation) immediately — medical doctor prescribes rest as he is exhausted." 

In 1993, when Bp. Soto was a monsignor in the diocese of Orange, he was put in charge of tracking down Ramos after new allegations surfaced. He documented his phone conversation with Bp. Berlie in a memorandum to Msgr. John Urell in June 1993. In it, he warns Bp. Berlie that Ramos has had new allegations and said, "We have reason to believe that there is a substance of truth" to them. 

Bishop Soto wrote: "Bishop McFarland counsels him against allowing Al Ramos to function as a priest. He is putting at risk his own people, most particularly the children who might be under his care." Continuing, Bp. Soto noted, "Bishop McFarland considers it criminal that he would be allowed to function."

Bishop Berlie dismissed the warning and confirmed that Ramos was still functioning as a priest. Bishop Soto wrote: "He thinks that the Church is allowing itself to be exploited, that we are kneeling, bending under the attacks that have been leveled against us." Berlie believed they have had similar cases "where men have recovered."

The conversation ended with Bp. Berlie needing a few days before he responded to the call to suspend Fr. Ramos. Bishop Berlie never suspended Ramos, and the diocese of Orange continued to pay for his support, even giving him a car and health insurance.

During the hearings in 2005, Bp. Driscoll testified he had no knowledge of Ramos' abuse. When presented with a statement from another priest proving he had first-hand knowledge, Driscoll refused to answer.  

Ramos died in 2004, still a priest with his faculties — and was never prosecuted for his crimes.

Kevin Eckery, the spokesman for Bp. Soto, refused to answer any questions pertaining to Bp. Soto's involvement in the settlement with the diocese of Orange. His response was to deflect the blame, saying, "Is it possible that Bishop Soto was named in a court document? Yes, but ... he was a priest and later an Auxiliary in that diocese, not the ordinary."

The renewed calls for Bp. Soto's resignation stem from his suspension of Fr. Jeremy Leatherby, a well-loved priest in Bp. Soto's diocese of Sacramento. Father Leatherby has been waiting over two years for either a hearing or the results of the investigation into claims he had an inappropriate relationship with an adult woman. Bishop Soto has refused to allow this hearing or even tell Fr. Leatherby who his accuser is.

Multiple sources told Church Militant this allegation was made shortly after his father, Deacon David Leatherby, approached a parish administrator to help a housekeeper who caught a parish priest in bed with another priest. This woman was so frightened after being confronted by the priest that she moved out of Sacramento and asked Deacon Leatherby for help.

These sources also told Church Militant the two homosexual priests are still active and have not been suspended.

Catholics speaking with Church Militant and other media say there are a number of priests that have been persecuted by Bp. Soto. They note that others that are known to be homosexual by their parishioners are left in their parishes, often to preach heresy.

This article has been corrected. 
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