Hundreds of suspected pedophile priests plague California

REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Spanish Catholics colonized California starting in the 1700s, paving the way for what would become one of the most populated — and popular — of the 50 United States.

Today, however, the footprints of those missionaries reveal something far scarier than most realize.

According to a Los Angeles-based attorney, around 200 Catholic priests tied to allegations of child abuse live across the Golden Coast state of California. What’s more is that none of them have been charged with crimes and most reside in communities completely unaware of their presence.

“Many if not all these priests have admitted to sexual abuse,” attorney Ray Boucher tells MNBC. Yet due to a milestone settlement that served as a mere slap on the wrist for several hundreds of allegations of sexual assault on minors, those alleged offenders are free from persecution — and publication.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese paid out an unprecedented settlement in 2007, one that awarded 500 plaintiffs who insisted that priests had abused them to the tune of $660 million. As part of the plea, however, many of the hundreds of priests named in the case escaped relatively unscathed. Some admitted their crimes and other remained only alleged sex criminals. None of those priests were actually convicted though, which allowed them to slip through the cracks and into obscurity where an estimated 200 now reside, uncharged and unknown to the families around them.

Boucher has provided MNBC with a map he made that pinpoints dozens of locations populated by alleged child molesters. From the SoCal city of Ocean Side and up through Sacramento, the attorney has identified 60 separate locations where suspected priests are thought to live today. With no convictions ever handed out, however, they live there to do as they wish.

“They live within a mile of 1,500 playgrounds, schools and daycare centers,” explains Boucher. Some of them victims are aware, and doubt that the taboo nature of Catholic Church sex scandals will allow much to be done.

Dan Smith says he was molested by a parish priest growing up. “He would rape me and then say this is what God’s love feels like,” he tells MSNBC 20 years after the fact. As the press prefers to ignore the realities of the sex crimes, Smith explains that more people would be left uncomfortable if they knew the harsh realities of the all-too-common crimes.

“When we talk about sexual abuse we’re talking about sodomy,” says Smith. “There’s pubic hair, there’s sweat, there’re smells, there’re grunts.”

Despite being brought to tears two decades later though, those alleged assailants have escaped persecution. As part of the settlement, many priests avoided admitting to wrongdoing and were whisked out of the cities — and sometime out of the country — by the church itself.

“What the church did is take these guys and send them off to facilities where they treat pedophile priests without ever alerting police,” Boucher says. “By enabling these priests to be hidden for so many years the church protected them from being prosecuted.”

Elsewhere, settlements have allowed others to walk away without fearing persecution. In Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Regali allowed 21 of 37 priests pegged as alleged abusers to stay with the church after a Grand Jury indictment. In Seattle, hundreds of priests were accused of sex abuse in a case that was just settled by the church last year.

Some say that is should end just there.

“They are being punished as if they have been convicted, or at least that’s the desire – to punish them,” says Donald Steir. “That’s not fair.” Steir represents several California clergymen and tells MSNBC that just because they are accused of crimes doesn’t mean they are criminals. Mr. Steir is obviously correct in his assumption, but with hundreds of priests running from allegations and escaping unscathed — it creates hundreds of cases where future crimes that could otherwise be thwarted will instead be unavoidable.

“Look at Penn State and see how important and significant it is when people in authority enable sexual abusers to continue,” Boucher adds. “That underscores how significant it is to get these names out.”