Holy War on the Peninsula

S.F. Archbishop Levada wants an embattled priest to leave his post at a Belmont parish. The cleric refuses to go.

A Roman Catholic priest accused of sexual impropriety is openly resisting San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada's order that he step aside as pastor in Belmont. "I have rights, too," Father Daniel Carter, 52, tells SF Weekly. "He [Levada] asked me to resign, and I have told him I do not wish to do so unless he gives me another assignment, which he has yet to do."

The extraordinary standoff between the archbishop and the embattled priest -- who was ordered to leave the pastor's post at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish by June 30 -- is almost certain to invite more unwelcome attention to a case that has already raised the ire of advocates for clergy-abuse victims.

The archbishop removed Carter from the parish last August, placing him on administrative leave shortly after Danielle Lacampagne, 34, a psychiatric social worker, filed a lawsuit against Carter and the archdiocese alleging that the priest 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. Carter vehemently denies the allegations. At the time, Carter was a brother of the Marist order and a teacher at San Francisco's Notre Dame des Victoires Parochial School, which Lacampagne attended.

The allegations have left the affluent, 2,400-member Belmont parish sharply divided.

Levada restored Carter to his post at the parish April 1, despite the civil suit pending against him. His reinstatement angered child welfare advocates, who said it flew in the face of a policy adopted by U.S. bishops in 2001 meant to ensure that no priest who is "credibly accused" remains in close contact with children.

It was controversial for another reason. Although the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board appointed by Levada found the allegations against Carter to be "inconclusive," in a March 25 letter informing the priest of Levada's decision to reinstate him the archbishop said the review panel had judged the allegations to be "unfounded." In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by SF Weekly, Levada told Carter that his duties as Belmont's pastor would end June 30 in favor of an undisclosed new assignment. "This new assignment is unrelated to the recent allegations of sexual abuse of a minor," Levada wrote.

But Carter has refused to go. At the priest's encouragement, supporters launched a letter-writing campaign in April aimed at persuading Levada to change his mind. With the archbishop apparently unmoved, Carter told his parish staff in May that he intended to give up the fight and step aside, sources say. But a few days later, after a parish hall dinner attended by more than 100 of Carter's supporters, the priest stiffened his resolve.

Since then, Carter has acquired the services of a canon lawyer to press the case that he should not be forced to leave without assurances about his next post.

In a brief interview, Carter said that he has notified the archbishop in writing that he does not intend to vacate his Belmont post until receiving assurance "that my next assignment will be as a pastor," something he says Levada has yet to provide. "I've done nothing wrong so that I should be removed from my assignment," Carter said. He contended Levada wants him to leave the parish and take a six-month sabbatical, with no guarantee of what his future role might be.

"And that's something I've refused to do," the pastor said.

Nearly a month after Carter was to have departed, some critics have grown restless, even as they marvel at the ability of a parish priest to defy the leader of some 425,000 Roman Catholics in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties. "I'm shocked that he's still here and surprised that the archbishop hasn't done what he said he would do, which was remove him," says Belmont parishioner Evelyn Seely. "This entire matter has torn the congregation apart."

While he wrestles with a defiant priest, Levada has moved to lessen the criticism of his handling of clergy-abuse issues in another way. In a bid to boost its credibility, the archdiocese has -- after many months of prodding by victims' rights advocates -- publicly identified Levada's six appointees to the so-called Independent Review Board.

According to the archdiocese newspaper Catholic San Francisco, the board's four lay members include retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Raymond Williamson; Janice McKay, a retired San Francisco police investigator; and Susanne McDonnell Giraudo and James A. Jenkins, both clinical psychologists. The panel's other members are Father Randolph Calvo, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Redwood City, and Sister Joanne De Vincenti, whom the archdiocese said is also a "health care professional."

Although welcome, the gesture elicited less than enthusiastic responses from victims' rights advocates.

"It's a typical Levada maneuver," says abuse victim Paul Hessinger, a member of No More Secrets, a group that has long called for Levada to be more open in dealing with clergy sex abuse. "He drags his feet until pushed into a corner and then does as little as possible."

"Merely releasing the names of who is on the board after all this time means very little if their business is still conducted in private, their findings are not made public, and if the archbishop continues to exercise strict control over their activities," says Terrie Light, Northern California coordinator of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

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