SAN DIEGO – Attorneys for nearly 150 people who claim sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests made nearly 10,000 pages of previously sealed internal church documents public Sunday, revealing at least one previously unknown decades-old case in which a priest under police investigation was allowed to leave the U.S. after the Diocese of San Diego intervened.
After a three-year legal battle over the Diocese of San Diego’s internal records, a retired San Diego Superior Court judge ruled late Friday that they could be made public. The records are from the personnel files of 48 priests who were either credibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse or were named in a civil lawsuit.
The 144 plaintiffs settled with the diocese in 2007 for nearly $200 million, but the agreement stipulated that an independent judge would review the priests’ sealed personnel records and determine what could be made public.
The files show what the diocese knew about abusive priests, starting decades before any allegations became public, and that some church leaders shuffled priests from parish to parish or overseas despite credible complaints against them.
“These documents demonstrate years and years and decades of concerted action that has allowed this community’s children to be victimized, and it is not until the community looks at these documents that this cycle is ever going to be ended,” attorney Anthony DeMarco said at a news conference.
At least one of the priests, Gustavo Benson, is still in active ministry in the Diocese of Ensenada in Mexico, DeMarco said. In a 2002 interview with the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Benson said he ministered to children there but had not done anything inappropriate. It wasn’t immediately known what Benson’s position at the diocese is now.
Donna Daly, a spokeswoman for the diocese, did not immediately return a call on Sunday, and no one answered at the main diocese number. Maria Roberts, an attorney for the diocese, did not immediately respond to a message left with her office on Sunday.
In at least one instance, the files included documented abuse by a priest whose name had not before surfaced in any lawsuit or criminal case, the Rev. Luis Eugene de Francisco, who was originally from Colombia. Police investigated de Francisco for allegedly abusing children, but the diocese convinced authorities to drop the case if the priest would return immediately to his Colombian diocese and never return to the U.S.
DeMarco said the papers in the files were the first time attorneys became aware of de Francisco. No one filed a lawsuit, the church never revealed the complaints, and it’s unclear what happened to the priest or if he is still alive, he said.
Attorneys are still trying for the release of an additional 2,000 pages of documents.