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?

After Berlie left San Francisco, however, she says Wester called her to say he had spoken with Berlie about Father Teddy, and that the priest was being kept away from children. "[Wester] told me not to worry because Father Teddy was in a remote part of Yucatán. I found that to be astounding," says Chavez. "To me, it was like saying, 'OK, so I guess little Mayan kids don't count.' It was outrageous."

By then, Chavez had turned to Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented more than 700 alleged victims of clerical abuse, for help. Anderson wrote to Archbishop Berlie in late December outlining Chavez's claims and asking that he investigate.

In a Feb. 3 letter -- two months after Chavez says Wester assured her that the Mérida archbishop had been notified -- Berlie wrote that he had not known of Chavez's allegations until informed by Anderson. In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by SF Weekly, Berlie says that until hearing from Chavez's attorney, he "was without any complaints of any kind" regarding Father Teddy. He adds that "following [Anderson's] request we have taken all the precautions in accord with [the lawyer's] prudent advice to restrict" the priest's contacts with children.

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.

While declining to discuss details, Wester nonetheless defends his role, telling SF Weekly that he informed Archbishop Berlie of Chavez's allegations both verbally and in writing. He says he mailed a letter about Chavez to Berlie on Dec. 2, but could not be specific about when he spoke with the Mexican archbishop.

"In that particular case, our main concern was for the safety of children," Wester says. "We felt it was important to let [Berlie] know that this allegation had come forward. That was the responsible thing to do." But Anderson, Chavez's attorney, offers a different view. He says his client's effort to obtain aid from the San Francisco Archdiocese "gives new meaning to the word 'negligence.' They stonewalled her and gave her the runaround for years when all someone had to do, if they were sincere, was pick up a phone."

Unlike other accused priests Levada eased out after Hallinan's demand for potentially damning church records, Father Daniel Carter didn't go quietly. In fact, he vociferously maintains his innocence, leaving parishioners at the 2,400-member Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Belmont, where he is pastor, sharply divided.

Carter, 52, did not respond to interview requests for this article.

The Carter case, more than any other in recent memory, has upset abuse victim advocates for the way Levada has handled it. The archbishop removed Carter from the parish, placing him on administrative leave in August, shortly after Danielle Lacampagne, 34, a psychiatric social worker, sued Carter and the archdiocese alleging sexual misconduct by the priest. Lacampagne claims Carter placed his hand inside her clothing and fondled her breasts and vagina while he was a guest in the family home when she was about 8 years old.

At the time, he was a brother of the Marist order and a teacher at San Francisco's Notre Dame des Victoires Parochial School, which Lacampagne attended. Levada restored Carter to the Belmont parish April 1 despite the pending lawsuit. "I don't know of another case in the country where a priest facing a civil lawsuit like this has been given access to kids again," says David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It absolutely flies in the face of the Dallas Charter [adopted by U.S. bishops last year], which stipulates that no priest is to be around kids who has been credibly accused."

Clohessy and others insist that Levada is trying to have it two ways in dealing with the controversy. Levada's official position on the matter, as reported in mid-April in the archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic San Francisco, is that the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board found the allegations against Carter to be "inconclusive." But in Levada's March 25 letter to Carter informing the priest of his decision to reinstate him, the archbishop told Carter the review panel judged the allegations to be "unfounded." (No criminal charges have been lodged against Carter.) Levada also told Carter he is being removed from the parish to take up an undisclosed new assignment as of July 1, adding, "This new assignment is unrelated to the recent allegations of sexual abuse of a minor."

Prior to Levada's decision, Lacampagne had, for tactical legal reasons, withdrawn and refiled her suit to take advantage of a new state law that went into effect on Jan. 1. The landmark law, passed with no dissenting votes in the Legislature, provides a one-year window of opportunity for victims to sue their alleged abusers, regardless of when the abuse occurred.

If Levada had deemed Lacampagne's withdrawal of her suit a reason to restore his priest to the parish, it quickly became a moot point. Her lawyers reinstated the lawsuit on March 27, four days before Carter returned to the pulpit.

The Carter case also raises questions about the secretive nature of the archdiocesan review panel.

"Just who are these [review board members] and how independent can they be?" asks Stockton attorney David Drivon, one of Lacampagne's lawyers. Archdiocese officials have frequently touted the panel's purported autonomy as evidence of Levada's progressive approach to the clergy abuse crisis. But those same officials, including Levada, have steadfastly refused to identify the board's members and have provided victim advocates with meager information about the way the panel functions.

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