Archbishop's Thorn

A priest removed from his church following allegations of sexual abuse appeals to the Vatican

A Roman Catholic priest who openly resisted San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada's order that he step aside as pastor of a Belmont church after he was accused of sexual misconduct has been reassigned to lesser duties in a San Francisco parish.

But Father Daniel Carter, 52, has not gone quietly, even as he assumed the role of a subordinate "priest in residence" at St. Kevin Parish in Bernal Heights last week. In an unusual move, Carter has appealed his removal to the Vatican, thus preventing the archbishop from naming a new pastor at Belmont's Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish until the matter is resolved.

Father Craig Forner, St. Kevin's pastor, said Carter would "not be undertaking the full responsibilities of an associate pastor" at his new assignment, but will reside at the rectory there and "help out occasionally" with conducting Mass. Forner said he agreed to accept Carter "on a temporary basis, at the archbishop's request."

Carter's appeal to Rome is the latest twist in an extraordinary standoff between the archbishop and the embattled priest. Carter had been ordered to step down in Belmont by June 30 but refused, prompting supporters and critics alike to marvel at the ability of a parish priest to defy the leader of 425,000 Roman Catholics in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.

The archbishop placed Carter on administrative leave from the parish in August 2002, shortly after psychiatric social worker Danielle Lacampagne, 34, sued Carter and the archdiocese, alleging that the priest put his hand inside her clothing and fondled her breasts and vagina while he was a guest in her family home when she was about 8 years old. 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. Carter vehemently denies the allegations.

Levada restored Carter to his Belmont post April 1 despite the lawsuit, sharply dividing the parish and angering 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 contact with children.

But Levada's handling of the matter has been controversial for another reason. A special panel appointed by Levada to investigate priestly abuse allegations found the charges against Carter to be "inconclusive." But in a March 25 letter informing the priest of Levada's decision to reinstate him, the archbishop said the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board had judged the allegations to be "unfounded." Levada further informed Carter in the letter that he would be transferred to an unspecified new job. But Levada insisted, "This new assignment is unrelated to the recent allegations of sexual abuse of a minor."

Although appearing to take Carter's side with respect to the sex-abuse allegation, the archbishop has nonetheless declined to publicly say why he has sought Carter's removal as pastor.

In an Aug. 14 letter to Belmont parishioners, Levada wrote that he had hoped returning Carter to work "would assist in restoring his good name and reputation, which had been impugned by the allegation against him."

"Carter has told me he believes his removal as pastor puts the restoration of his good name in jeopardy. This is an understandable concern. I want to reiterate in this open letter that his removal is not in any way related to the allegation of sexual misconduct," Levada wrote.

The archbishop's statement didn't impress some of Carter's critics.

"There's an element of double talk about what the archbishop says that is rather disturbing," says Belmont parishioner Christine McGill, who has voiced support for Lacampagne, a former student of McGill when she was a professor at San Francisco State University. "I would have preferred to see the archbishop take a more neutral tone. Instead, he ignores the pending civil litigation against [Carter] and sounds very conciliatory and face-saving on his behalf."

Levada's handling of the matter has placed a spotlight on the review panel, established in 2001 as part of a policy initiative adopted by U.S. bishops. The panel has little autonomy, serving solely as a consultative body at the pleasure of the archbishop. Levada has rejected calls to appoint at least one clergy-abuse victim to the panel. To boost the Review Board's credibility, the archdiocese in July released the names of panel members, a move that victim rights advocates, while applauding, dismissed as too little, too late.

Carter announced his departure -- and his appeal to the Vatican -- to parishioners during services at Belmont on Aug. 17, the last Sunday before he was to take up his new duties at the San Francisco church. He did not respond to interview requests for this article. But in July he told SF Weekly that "I've done nothing wrong so that I should be removed from my assignment," and confirmed that he had acquired the services of a canon lawyer to press his case against the archbishop's order. Carter had wanted assurance from Levada that his next assignment would be as a pastor, but Levada wanted him to leave the parish and take a six-month sabbatical, with no guarantee of what his future role might be, he said.

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