See No Evil

S.F. Archbishop William Levada styles himself as a leading advocate for openness among Catholic leaders on the clergy sex-abuse issue. So why doesn't he practice what he preaches?

Aylward: "Well, it may have been deep down. Most of the time I just like to -- you know, this was physical activity, and I enjoyed the exercise, the physical activity, basketball."

Aylward said in court documents that no one from the archdiocese had ever questioned him about whether he had sought sexual gratification by wrestling with young boys. Nor was the incident Conley interrupted the first time Aylward had grappled with the Burlingame altar boy. As court documents reveal, Aylward engaged in similar conduct with him for more than a year, something that Justine Durrell, another attorney for the boy's family, says "became more and more uncomfortable" for the youth. The plaintiff, now 21, has never spoken publicly about his experience. Durrell says he "prefers to put it behind him and go on with his life." The attorney says she was "as surprised as anyone" by Aylward's admissions.

"I think he couldn't live with it anymore and felt compelled to come clean and tell the truth," she says.

San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada, then 
(above) and now (top): His handling of abuse cases 
has drawn the ire of victim advocates.
San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada, then (above) and now (top): His handling of abuse cases has drawn the ire of victim advocates.
As auxiliary bishop of San Francisco in 1997, current 
San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath figures 
prominently in the saga of whistle-blower Father John 
As auxiliary bishop of San Francisco in 1997, current San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath figures prominently in the saga of whistle-blower Father John Conley.

In unburdening himself, Aylward essentially ended his church career. Soon after his disclosures he was ushered into retirement. Although he admitted no wrongdoing with the plaintiff, the archdiocese did not want to endure a trial. In May 2000, Levada authorized a secret church payout of $750,000 to the boy, halting his court action.

But the problem of what to do about Conley remained. The spectacle of a priest suing his archdiocese for supposedly punishing him after he reported suspected abuse by a fellow cleric would have attracted widespread media interest. Last September, with Levada's calls in Dallas for a vigorous campaign to rid the church of abusers still echoing, the archbishop was deposed in the Conley case. Two months later, as jury selection was set to begin, the archdiocese agreed to settle out of court.

At the church's insistence, little about the terms was revealed. But a joint statement issued by the two sides includes this remarkable acknowledgment: "The archdiocese and Father Conley have agreed that Father Conley was right in what he did in reporting the incident to police. As subsequent revelations confirmed, Father Conley's instincts regarding the matter [were] correct."

As for monetary arrangements, the statement says only that the archdiocese has "pre-funded" Conley's retirement. But Conley appears to have done quite well. He retains his privileges as a priest and will soon move into expensive new digs in a two-bedroom flat on a Noe Valley hilltop with sweeping views of the city.

"After what Father Conley endured, what is remarkable about him is his steadfast desire to stay within the church and to carry on his position of being a priest, and we're satisfied that he's able to do that," says Michael Guta, Conley's attorney. Conley, who is said by friends to have been under severe emotional stress during his ordeal, recently underwent a heart operation but tells SF Weekly he is recuperating well. Of the Aylward affair, he says, "I don't believe I had a choice to do anything other than what I did. Any person with a moral conscience would have done the same thing."

As a child attending San Francisco's Church of the Epiphany, Sylvia Chavez held priests in high esteem.

Her two brothers were altar boys. And when they came home from Mass to report that a young priest from Mexico had moved to their Excelsior District parish, it wasn't long before Father Theodore Baquedano-Pech was an honored guest at the family dinner table. Father Teddy, as he was known, was 28 and boyishly good-looking when he arrived from Mexico's Yucatán peninsula in 1967. Assigned to conduct Mass for Epiphany's Spanish-speaking congregants, he regularly stopped in for meals at Chavez's home on his way to night classes at San Francisco City College, she says.

Charming and unfailingly polite, Father Teddy "seemed to do no wrong," says Chavez, now 48. "My parents, like everyone else, thought that he practically walked on water."

Chavez knew differently. It wasn't long before he began molesting her, she says. He kissed and fondled her -- in her bedroom, in the garage, and during outings he arranged with her and her brothers. "The first time he kissed my mouth, the kiss was so strong that my mouth actually hurt for a long time afterward," she recalls. She was 11, "confused and frightened," and didn't dare tell anyone of the priest's advances.

"He would come over and say, "Where's Sylvia?' and my mother would say, "Oh, she's up in her room,' and he would come upstairs and molest me," Chavez says.

Sometimes he partially undressed and climbed into her bed, rubbing his penis against her, she says. Once, she says, he even groped her under the table during a family meal. In a confessional booth at the church one Sunday she told the priest what he was doing seemed wrong, prompting him to reply, "'It's OK. Don't worry about it. Go home,'" she says. "That very night he came to the house and molested me again, and it just continued." The abuse, she says, stretched over several months.

When Father Teddy departed for his next clerical station -- South Korea -- by passenger ship, she and her entire family were at the waterfront to see him off. "I remember standing there watching members of my family wave from the dock and thinking that I knew something horrible that they didn't know." The abuse didn't end with the priest's departure, she says. During a visit to San Francisco two years later, Father Teddy took advantage of her epilepsy by fondling her as she lay immobile and helpless across a bed during a seizure, she claims.

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