At a momentous gathering of U.S. Catholic bishops last June — the first such conclave after the clergy sex-abuse scandal erupted in Boston and spread across the nation — San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada advanced an idea that set him apart from many of his cassocked brethren. Amid multiple proposals to crack down on pedophile priests, Levada challenged the bishops assembled in Dallas to examine their own conduct in handling sex-abuse cases involving the clergy.
He called on fellow hierarchs to do everything they could to root out offending priests and to vigorously monitor their own progress in order to restore the badly shaken confidence of rank-and-file Catholics. Levada had hit on the same theme earlier in San Francisco in unusually blunt remarks during a special Mass. “We are suffering for the mistakes of bishops and administrators who did not place the future protection of children above their desire to protect the reputation and service of priests who had proven themselves unfaithful to their duties,” the archbishop told an audience of some 400 priests and 2,000 parishioners. His Dallas proposal — offered at a time when media attention to clergy sex abuse was at its zenith — helped catapult him to the front ranks of the American hierarchy on the issue. Pope John Paul II later chose Levada as one of four U.S. church leaders to work with the Vatican in crafting a compromise sex-abuse plan that His Holiness could accept. The pope signed off on the watered-down “zero tolerance” policy in December.
But if he has distinguished himself by demanding that church leaders be open in dealing with the worst crisis to afflict the church in more than a century, Levada has a record as leader of 425,000 Roman Catholics in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties that suggests he has not practiced what he preaches. Advocates for abuse victims express frustration that more than a year after the clergy sex-abuse scandal burst into the headlines, Levada's archdiocese has dragged its feet in response to victims' pleas for help. And while Levada has drawn praise for his accommodating public statements on the issue, critics say he and his top aides have worked to keep complaints about accused priestly abusers shrouded in secrecy. (Levada declined to be interviewed for this article.)
“[Levada's] method is to string you along in hopes that you will eventually tire out and go away,” says Terrie Light, the Northern California coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, which has members nationwide.
In March, the frustrated Light called for abuse victims to boycott meetings with archdiocese officials that were instituted last May, saying the monthly gatherings were fruitless “and nothing more than an attempt by the archbishop to co-opt the survivor community for his own purposes.” Only a few victims were attending the meetings, held in a third-floor conference room at archdiocese headquarters adorned by a bigger-than-life portrait of the archbishop. Levada rarely attended. Other than helping to plan a June 14 “ceremony of apology” for victims — an event over which Levada is to preside — participants in the talks have accomplished little, critics say.
“They're throwing us crumbs,” says Patrick Wilkes, who belongs to a loose-knit group of abuse survivors known as No More Secrets, whose members have kept up the dialogue with local church officials. “The archdiocese is doing nothing of substance to respond to abuse victims.”
Victim advocates say the lack of candor on the part of Levada and his subordinates has discouraged victims from coming forward. Take whistle-blower priest Father John Conley, for example. In 1997, Conley unexpectedly walked in on a fellow priest, Father James Aylward, engaging in what he suspected was inappropriate contact with an altar boy in a darkened Burlingame church. Conley subsequently reported what he had observed to his superiors, including Levada. But it was Conley who was soon forced out of active ministry — for reasons archdiocese officials insist were unrelated to his whistle-blowing.
After Aylward later admitted touching boys for sexual gratification, the archdiocese shelled out $750,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the altar boy's parents, while requiring that details of the settlement be kept secret. Conley then sued the archdiocese, contending that his priestly career had been unfairly cut short because of his whistle-blowing. In November, Levada authorized an extraordinary secret settlement with Conley just before the suit was to go to trial.
In another case, San Francisco preschool teacher Sylvia Chavez contends that local church officials stonewalled her after she sought their help in tracking down a priest in Mexico who she says molested her as a child while he served in the San Francisco parish where she grew up. Chavez spent much time last year communicating her concerns to Auxiliary Bishop John Wester, Levada's point man on sex-abuse issues. Wester insists he personally informed the accused priest's supervising archbishop in Mexico about her allegations in December. But the Mexican prelate says he was unaware of her charges until informed of them later by an attorney Chavez turned to for help.
Few cases have rankled Levada's critics more than that of Father Daniel Carter, whom Levada yanked as pastor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Belmont in August and recently reinstated despite a pending lawsuit by a woman who contends that Carter sexually fondled her as a child. Carter has loudly proclaimed his innocence. But his restoration to the pulpit upset victim advocates who question the thoroughness and objectivity of an investigation conducted by a secretive panel Levada created in 2001 to look into abuse complaints.
Local church officials heralded the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board as evidence of Levada's determination to get to the bottom of the clerical abuse problem. Critics, however, say the archbishop's handling of the Carter case was deceptive at best. Although the review panel found the allegations by San Francisco social worker Danielle Lacampagne to be “inconclusive,” that is not what the archbishop told his priest. In a March letter to Carter announcing the decision to reinstate him, a copy of which was obtained by SF Weekly, Levada asserts instead that the review panel declared the charges “unfounded.” Besides prompting criticism that the archbishop is trying to have it both ways in dealing with Carter, the case raises questions about the role of the review panel, whose members operate in anonymity and about which the archdiocese has chosen to reveal practically nothing. [page]
“The whole idea of a review panel should be to instill credibility that you're actually doing something,” says victim advocate Paul Hessinger, who is among those who've pressed the archdiocese for information to no avail. “The secrecy around the review board just reinforces the perception that it's a rubber stamp for the archbishop.”
As SF Weekly reported in March (“Bishop Bad Boy,” March 19), a similar pattern of secrecy marks Levada's overseeing the cleanup of twin sex and financial scandals he inherited in the Santa Rosa Diocese in 1999. The archbishop's longtime friend, Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, had been forced to surrender his post after being caught shaking down a subordinate priest for sex. Following Ziemann's departure — he now lives in church exile at an Arizona monastery — it was revealed that the diocese was more than $16 million in debt. Levada authorized a secret $532,000 settlement to Ziemann's accuser, Father Jorge Hume Salas.
Church officials sought to vilify Hume, who nonetheless managed to retain his priestly faculties as part of the settlement. After Levada stepped in to govern the diocese, a criminal investigation into alleged financial irregularities hit a roadblock when diocesan officials refused to fully cooperate. Yet through it all, including his most recent actions related to the Carter matter, Levada has managed to avoid the kind of media scrutiny that has dogged other Catholic hierarchs, including his close friend, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony.
Besides Carter, Levada has taken action against at least six other priests, including some prominent ones, since the clergy abuse mess erupted on a national scale. They include Monsignor John O'Connor, who oversaw the landmark St. Mary's Cathedral on the edge of Chinatown, and who took a leave of absence in August after being accused of having improperly touched a boy more than 30 years ago. Monsignor John Heaney, the longtime former chaplain of the San Francisco Police Department, has been accused by two brothers of molesting them more than 40 years ago. Father Miles O'Brien Riley, an author, actor, and former spokesman for the church who was well-known for his radio ministry and as a fixture on the old God Squad TV show, was the target of a complaint by a female parishioner who accused him of having consensual contact short of intercourse with her in the early 1970s. And a teenage Marin County boy accused Monsignor Peter Armstrong, former chaplain of the San Francisco 49ers, of having improper contact with him.
Each of the clerics has proclaimed his innocence. Except for Armstrong, who had already retired, each was allowed to go quietly, with Levada either suspending them with pay, placing them on personal leave, or allowing them to retire.
Citing Levada's vigilance, church officials have declared the archdiocese free of child-molesting clerics. But Levada's purges may have been triggered in part by a demand by San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan. In April 2002, Hallinan ordered the archdiocese to surrender records pertaining to potential cases of priestly child abuse that occurred as long as 75 years ago. The unprecedented — some called it nutty — request elicited grumbles from various quarters, including the Chronicle, which took Hallinan to task in an editorial for engaging in a fishing expedition. The archdiocese since has turned over many, although not all, of the records the DA wants, says Elliot Beckelman, the assistant district attorney charged with investigating clerical crimes.
Levada jettisoned a few of his problem priests within a couple of months of the DA's edict. To victim advocate Hessinger, who has agitated for more openness from the archdiocese for years, the timing of the exodus was revealing.
“Despite all the talk about how concerned [Levada] is that everyone is above reproach,” Hessinger says, “it just told me that he doesn't do anything until he has to.”
In settling the Conley case out of court, Levada managed to avoid a public airing of an episode that could have been deeply embarrassing to the archbishop and some of his top lieutenants. A jury was set to hear the priest's suit at an especially delicate time, just as Levada and the other papal appointees had finished work on the blueprint for the American church's new Vatican-approved sexual-abuse policy.
Conley had sued after informing Levada and top archdiocese officials about something he had seen inside St. Catherine Church in Burlingame on a night when he had returned earlier than expected after teaching a class.
Although he was an associate priest answerable to Father Aylward as his pastor, Conley was no shrinking violet. A former federal prosecutor, the Detroit native had come to the priesthood after a stint as chief of the criminal division for the eastern district of Michigan. He had also served as a top legal adviser for the Michigan Racing Commission, which regulates thoroughbred racing.
After moving to the Bay Area in the early 1980s, he worked in federal bankruptcy courts for several years before realizing his lifelong dream of entering the priesthood. Conley graduated from St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park in 1993 and began the first of a string of parish assignments that resulted in his ultimately landing at St. Catherine in the summer of 1997.
His life — as well as Aylward's — changed dramatically as a result of the encounter in the church on the evening of Nov. 6, 1997. Neither Conley nor anyone else associated with the case would discuss it, citing confidentiality constraints. But Conley's detailed recollection of the incident and its aftermath, contained in court documents, provides a glimpse of the inner workings of the San Francisco Archdiocese that is less than flattering to Levada and some of his subordinates, including one — Patrick J. McGrath — who has since gone on to be San Jose's bishop. [page]
According to his sworn testimony in a deposition, Conley arrived back at the church at about 8 p.m. He unlocked the door and went inside, hearing a noise in a nearby hallway. He pushed open a door and, he says, spotted a 15-year-old boy, one of several youths Aylward had recruited as volunteers to answer phones and greet people entering the church. In his deposition, Conley says the boy, kneeling in the dark and facing away from him, was “panting” and out of breath.
“I said, 'Hey, what's going on? What's happening? Are you wrestling?'” Conley testified.
“Yeah, yeah, wrestling,” the boy replied, according to Conley.
“I said, 'Who is that in there with you?'”
The boy said nothing. Conley says he repeated the question and the boy responded, “Father Aylward.”
Even before hearing the answer, Conley says he saw a hand reach up from the floor and turn a doorknob on the other side of the hall. Aylward, he says, crawled away.
Conley later placed two significant phone calls: one to the San Francisco chancery office to request a meeting with Levada (Conley didn't state his purpose) and the other to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. Levada was out of town the day of the appointment, and Conley was directed to McGrath, then an auxiliary bishop to Levada.
Conley says the first words McGrath uttered after inviting him into his office were, “John, these goddamn guys can't keep it in their pants.” Conley says the bishop handed him a copy of a state law requiring priests and other religious workers to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement authorities. (The measure, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1997, had been strongly opposed by the state's Roman Catholic bishops.) After reading it, Conley says he replied: “My God. This law went into effect 11 months ago. How come we haven't heard about this? Why haven't the parishes been briefed?”
McGrath, he says, responded: “We are still studying it.”
McGrath then said, “We better get the lawyers up here,” according to Conley. The priest says McGrath expressed reservations about getting involved in the Aylward matter, suggesting that John Wester, then the archdiocese's vicar for clergy, handle it. (Wester was elevated to the additional role of auxiliary bishop in 1998.) Conley says McGrath also wanted to call Aylward to inform him that he was being discussed. Conley says he told McGrath, “Bishop, I had a background as a prosecutor. I can't give you advice, but … I would strongly recommend against that.”
As they waited for an archdiocesan lawyer to arrive, Conley says McGrath turned to him and said, “Now, are you sure you want to do this?”
“I said, 'Do what?'”
“He said, 'Report this.'”
“And I said, 'Well, I already have an appointment with the district attorney.' And I said, “From what you just read to me, it's a requirement of law.'” Conley says McGrath responded, “Well, I suppose so but you know, prior to this we've always handled these things in-house.”
Conley says he then stepped across the hall to call the assistant district attorney with whom he had arranged to meet the next day for the purpose of asking how he should proceed. He says the prosecutor told him to go back to McGrath and “tell the bishop that if he does contact Father Aylward that could be interpreted as an obstruction of justice.” Conley says he conveyed the message to McGrath, who agreed not to notify Aylward. (Through a spokeswoman, McGrath declined to be interviewed for this article. “He doesn't want to discuss Father Conley,” said Roberta Ward. “He's here [in San Jose] now. That was another time. He just doesn't want to go there.”)
Not long after Conley's Nov. 17, 1997, meeting with McGrath, he says, he received a call from Wester, the vicar for clergy, advising him to “keep quiet” about Aylward and not damage the priest's “good name and reputation.” Conley says Wester said he had spoken with Levada and that “the archbishop forbids you to use the word pedophile” in relation to Aylward.
A few minutes later, Conley says, Wester called back to say he had just spoken to the archbishop and that Levada had also instructed Conley “not to tell the sisters” about the incident, an apparent reference to nuns assigned to the parish. Chafing at the constraints, Conley told Wester that he did not “deal well with the F word — forbid” and that as a grown man he knew “how to use vocabulary” in describing what he had seen.
Conley's recollections of the exchange with Wester came in answer to questions from Paul Gaspari, an archdiocesan attorney who deposed the priest last year. (Unlike some other documents, the Conley deposition was not included in a gag order a judge imposed, at the archdiocese's urging, on the parties to the settlement.) In response to Gaspari's questions, Conley recalls telling Wester, “You must be in contact with the archbishop. … And he says, yes, he was. And I said, “Well, will you deliver a message for me?' And he said, well, he'd be happy to. And so I had him deliver a message.”
Gaspari then asks, “And what was the message?”
“The message was to tell the archbishop to grow some balls and start acting like a man.”
Asked why he felt the need to express himself so angrily, Conley replies, “Because I felt this was a very serious matter involving child abuse and that they were hiding their heads in the sand, refusing to deal with it.”
If Conley's bluntness fueled Levada's ire, what occurred at the archbishop's residence on Dec. 20, 1997, appears to have given Levada the ammunition he needed to torpedo his whistle-blower.
Summoned to an audience with the archbishop, Conley showed up with a tape recorder, which Levada immediately asked him to turn off. Conley, seeking to protect his interests, resisted. “Don't you trust me?” Levada asked, according to Conley. “This isn't a matter of trust, it's a matter of accuracy,” the priest says he responded.
Levada then purportedly said that since Conley refused to turn the recorder off he had no choice but to place him on administrative leave. The archbishop, according to Conley's deposition, also referred to reports that Conley had exhibited bouts of ill temper, citing a woman's complaint about the manner in which Conley had served her Communion. Conley says he got out the tape recorder again, prompting Levada to threaten to end the meeting. The archbishop told Conley he was out at St. Catherine, but that since it was the holiday season, he could stay until the day after Christmas, Conley says. Levada made Conley's ouster official in a letter two days later.
Aylward, on the other hand, was permitted to continue as St. Catherine's pastor for several months before being transferred to a Marin County parish. Conley, his clerical career in tatters, was banished to a church retreat center in Menlo Park; he was later allowed to take up residence in a San Francisco rectory with minimal responsibilities. Branded a troublemaker, he was shunned by many fellow priests, he says.
Archdiocese officials publicly treated Aylward's alleged conduct with the boy as little more than a nickel foul.
“It's the kind of thing which certainly we're concerned about, but it is what it is. It's not more than what it is, and it's wrong to make more of it than it is,” Maurice Healy, the archbishop's spokesman, told a radio interviewer. In a letter to the editor of the San Mateo County Times, Healy asserted that Conley's dismissal from St. Catherine “was totally unrelated to his reporting of possible child abuse.” Noting that Burlingame police had cleared Aylward of criminal wrongdoing, he added, “While the archdiocese strongly disapproves of a priest wrestling with a youth, Aylward's lapse of judgment does not warrant a witch hunt against a man who has been a good priest for 34 years.”
The boy's parents, however, weren't satisfied. They sued Aylward and the archdiocese, alleging that the priest sexually molested their son. And under questioning by an attorney for the parents in February 2000, the priest dropped a bombshell. Though he maintained his innocence on the night Conley walked in on him and the youth, he also made an astonishing admission with humiliating consequences for his defenders at the archdiocese. He described “wrestling” with several boys from various parishes he had served during trips to Half Moon Bay and elsewhere — and the physical effect the grappling sessions had on him.
A lawyer for the boy's parents, Ronald Schwartz, then asked Aylward: “Did you ever get any kind of erection. … Did you get stimulated at all?”
“Sometimes,” Aylward said.
Schwartz: “Would you ever end up coming to a climax?”
Aylward: “That happened several times.”
Schwartz: “Would that be with your clothing still on, or both ways?”
Aylward: “I never took my clothes off.”
Later Aylward was asked if the roughhousing resulted “in sexual gratification or arousal for you?”
Aylward: “Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn't.”
Schwartz: “Was one of the reasons you were attracted to enter into this rough-housing or wrestling was [sic] the feeling of closeness or sexual gratification or the hope for it?”
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.
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.” [page]
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.
But her worst single fright was when Father Teddy came for an overnight visit in 1972. Chavez, then 16, spent a sleepless night with a chair braced against her bedroom door, afraid the priest would slip into her room after the rest of her family had gone to sleep, she says. The next morning, while she was alone in her mother's bedroom, Father Teddy, wearing his clerical collar, grabbed her and tried to pull her pants down, she says. She says he let go after she threatened to expose him.
To her relief, when she returned from school that day, he was gone.
Although happily married and with a daughter who is a Peace Corps volunteer, Chavez says she has spent decades struggling emotionally with the effects of the alleged abuse. She was 30 before she was able to tell her mother what had happened. It wasn't until 1993, during former San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn's tenure, that she turned to the archdiocese for help, a pursuit that she says has left her feeling victimized a second time.
Indeed, Chavez's attempt to enlist the archdiocese's aid in blowing the whistle on Father Teddy is its own horror story, suggesting ineptitude, if not indifference, on the part of archdiocese officials.
When Chavez first contacted the archdiocese she was suffering from an eating disorder, which she attributes to being abused, and says she was assured that she would receive help in “doing something about Father Teddy.” The archdiocese paid for counseling, but her hopes of getting assistance in tracking down the priest were dashed during 1993 when, in a meeting at her therapist's office, Father Gregory Ingels, then the vicar for clergy, announced that the archdiocese was not responsible for Father Teddy since he was merely a visiting priest during the time of the alleged molestations, Chavez says. (Ingels has his own problems. As this article was going to press, a criminal complaint had been filed against him alleging that he sexually molested a minor in Marin County in 1972. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Marin County Superior Court on May 28.)
She then turned to McGrath, the auxiliary bishop, who she says at first seemed agreeable to the idea of the archdiocese's paying for a trip she wanted to make to Mexico to pursue the priest. But archdiocese officials soon discouraged her, she says, contending the journey wouldn't be safe. [page]
Then something unexpected happened. In May 1994, she says, she was notified that the archdiocese had received a letter from Father Teddy. In it, he acknowledged that he had become better acquainted with Chavez than with any other member of her family, adding, “Never did I ever think that my friendship or my affection would do her any harm.” Ingels let her view the letter, but refused to give her a copy. “When I asked him why he wouldn't give me a copy of the letter, he told me it was 'for the protection of the priest,'” she says, “which infuriated me.”
Soon afterward, she says, the archdiocese stopped paying for her therapy.
Last spring, after Chavez gave a newspaper interview in which she was quoted as saying that “my Latina ass would be in jail if I had hurt a child the way Father Teddy had,” Ingels mailed her the letter, she says.
At about the same time, a sympathetic Father Bruce Dreier, the current pastor of Church of the Epiphany, her childhood church, agreed to her request to print her allegations about Father Teddy in the parish bulletin. But that was about as far as the church's cooperation went.
What followed, she says, was a series of meetings with Auxiliary Bishop John Wester, who she says “said all the right things, seemed to listen and be sympathetic, but did very little.” Her demands to Wester were simple, she says. “I wasn't seeking money. I didn't want to cause them any problems. I simply wanted them to do what they should have done years earlier. I wanted them to locate this priest in Mexico and make sure [local church leaders] were aware of my allegations against him — to protect kids from going through what I went through.”
But that didn't happen, according to her.
Despite assurances by Wester in May 2002 that the archdiocese would do everything it could to locate Father Teddy, she says, months dragged by with no progress until, with Wester's support, she agreed to detail her abuse in a letter that Wester promised to send to Mexican Catholic officials. Writing the letter was a painful exercise that she agonized over for two months. Last November, she says, Wester assured her that it had been mailed.
But the next month, at a meeting of abuse victims at the chancery office, she asked if he had heard anything and was flabbergasted to learn that he had misplaced the letter. But, Wester added, he had finally sent it that very day.
Something else that happened in December caused her doubts about the archdiocese's sincerity to deepen.
Father Teddy's superior, Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzarán of Mérida, was to come to San Francisco for a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the revered Mexican saint. When Chavez learned of the visit, she says, she called Wester to help arrange a meeting with the Mexican prelate. She says Wester nixed the idea, saying Archbishop Berlie's schedule was too crowded.
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.
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. [page]
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.
Approached by an SF Weekly reporter, the panel's co-chair was similarly unwilling to identify its members or discuss its activities. “I would need to get permission from someone at the chancery office before I say anything,” said Janice McKay, a retired San Francisco police investigator.
It was McKay who came to Lacampagne's Outer Sunset home last May, more than a month after Lacampagne reported the allegations against Carter to the archdiocese in early April.
“She spent maybe 30 minutes visiting with me and didn't want to get into much detail,” says Lacampagne. She says McKay was “sympathetic” and “said things that clearly made me believe that she had no trouble with my credibility.” McKay told her another member of the panel was contacting Carter to hear his account, she says. Lacampagne says she thought McKay's visit was preliminary and that she would get the chance to share her story with the entire panel, which McKay told her consisted of “six or seven” members. Lacampagne expressed a similar hope to Bishop Wester, her main contact at the archdiocese, she says.
But no one else from the panel ever spoke with her. “The weird thing is that they never talked to anyone [among friends and family] to even know what kind of person I was,” Lacampagne says. (Although raised in the church, she no longer professes Catholicism. Both her father, Emile, a financial consultant, and her mother, Janet, a San Francisco police sergeant, attended the same Notre Dame parish and school that she and her two siblings attended.) In fact, no one from the archdiocese, including Wester, ever notified her about the official disposition of the matter, she says. As April dragged into May and then June, Lacampagne says she grew weary of making calls to Wester and McKay to find out what was taking so long.
“I didn't want their money, or their sympathies really,” she says. “My only goal was to hope that [Carter] would be removed from being around children.”
At one point McKay attributed the delay in resolving the matter to scheduling, saying it was “difficult to get four people together,” Lacampagne says. She says McKay identified the four as McKay, another panel member said to have interviewed Carter, and two others — Levada and Wester. “It made me wonder just how the review board operates, since the only one of them who ever spoke to me was Janice McKay.” In her final phone conversation with McKay in June, she says, the board co-chair told her — mistakenly, at the time — that Carter had been removed from his parish job. She said he had denied the allegations but that as far as the review panel was concerned the case was “open but inactive.”
Carter wasn't removed until August. By then, a frustrated Lacampagne had turned to attorneys in her quest to get the archdiocese to act. The experience with Wester and the review panel had been a dead end. In fact, she says, Wester, unintentionally or otherwise, had conveyed inaccurate information about important aspects of her account. A summary of her allegations provided by Wester to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office — part of the disclosures Hallinan required of the archdiocese — that she later obtained from the DA differed on a couple of key points from what she says she told Wester and McKay. [page]
The report, in which her name was misspelled and the month she was alleged to have first contacted Wester was inaccurate, erroneously portrayed the nature of her abuse as vaginal penetration, which Lacampagne says she never asserted. It also said the alleged molestation occurred in the bedroom of her home. She says Carter fondled her at the dining room table, after she had come downstairs in her pajamas to say good night, and while her parents and siblings were elsewhere in the house.
Carter's supporters seized on the apparent discrepancies. As part of a vocal campaign for his reinstatement, a newsletter distributed to parishioners in February alleged that his accuser had changed her story between the time she contacted Wester and when she filed her lawsuit. His backers amassed a legal war chest of more than $100,000. Carter took the extraordinary step of supplying supporters with postcards attesting to his innocence and asking them to mail them to Levada. He wrote open letters to parishioners likening his efforts to regain his post to doing battle against “the forces of evil.” He even continued to preside over services for invited guests at a supporter's home.
Particularly jolting, says Lacampagne, was an accusation by the priest's backers that her father — a long-ago friend of Carter when the men sang in the same church choir — had expressed doubts about her story. The claim was part of a whispering campaign to vilify her, several parishioners at the Belmont church say. The charge was repeated in the newsletter distributed by Carter's proponents, citing as a source none other than Wester. “Bishop Wester told [Father] Carter at the initial meeting with him in April  that the accuser's father had said that the alleged incident never happened,” the newsletter asserted.
But Emile Lacampagne says that isn't true.
“I find that extremely offensive, both to me and to my daughter,” he says. “No one from the archdiocese, including Bishop Wester, ever spoke to me about my daughter's allegations. Had they done so, I would have told them the same thing I'm telling you, which is that I support Danielle 100 percent in what she said happened to her, and always have.”
Pressed about whether he told Carter that Emile Lacampagne had expressed such doubts, Wester declined to answer. “That was a personal conversation … I don't tell that kind of thing.”
Carter's reinstatement has hardly calmed the waters. Besides Lacampagne's allegations, Belmont parishioners recently witnessed their pastor openly challenging the archbishop's order reassigning him to another parish. Carter has taken the extraordinary step of soliciting parishioners to write letters to Levada asking that he be allowed to stay.
Neither do Levada's headaches involving Conley, his whistle-blower priest, appear to be over. Although the court gag order prevents full disclosure of the controversial — and apparently costly — settlement the archdiocese entered into with Conley until next year, it does not indefinitely bar the priest from discussing his ordeal. And that could spell more unpleasantness for the archdiocese.
Conley intends to write a tell-all book.