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Survivors urge Sacramento diocese to expand accused priest list, including adult sex abuse

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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is calling for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento to expand its list of credibly abused clergy by about two dozen, providing a list consisting largely of priests who served an assignment at some point in the Sacramento area and then had accusations acknowledged by other dioceses.

The organization is also urging the diocese to begin listing those credibly accused of sexually abusing adults older than 25.

SNAP Sacramento alleges there are at least 25 priests who should be added on these grounds to the local list, currently composed of 45 priests and two deacons. The diocese’s list and SNAP’s proposed list each span several decades.

“I’m here to stand in advocacy with all of God’s children — no matter what age,” SNAP Sacramento leader Dorothy Small said at a news conference Wednesday, on the sidewalk outside the diocese office on Broadway.

“We are susceptible to people who are in positions of power and authority, and especially a power and authority that represents the highest power there is.”

Pope Francis announced this year that sexual abuse of adults by priests would be criminalized, a major change to canon law that formally took effect Wednesday, on Immaculate Conception Day.

“My team and I will review the information shared in today’s press event and consider ways to more publicly inform parishioners when a priest or religious has abused their trust,” Bishop Jaime Soto, leader of the diocese, wrote in an emailed statement to The Bee on Wednesday evening.

“I am committed to atoning for the horrible sins of the past and doing all I can to bring healing to the victims of clergy sexual abuse.”

The diocese in 2019 settled with Small, a Woodland resident, for $200,000 following a lawsuit alleging that former Rev. Renerio Sabuga Jr. sexually assaulted her in a bedroom in 2015, when she was an adult.

A diocese spokesperson in 2017 told The Sacramento Bee that Sabuga was written up for “carrying on a relationship with a woman outside his vows,” and fired when the issue arose again. SNAP alleges Sabuga continues to work as a priest in the Philippines.

The survivors organization is asking that Sabuga and two dozen other priests be added to the abuse list.

The other 24 names, compiled by SNAP Treasurer Dan McNevin, include many who were assigned to parishes in the Sacramento Diocese and but later listed by other dioceses or Franciscan orders as having been credibly accused of abuse.

The current list by the Sacramento Diocese has a section for this category, which includes 16 priests.

Melanie Sakoda, a SNAP survivor support coordinator, acknowledged that Sacramento “has one of the better lists that has come out from dioceses across the country.”

Still, Sakoda said it isn’t clear why the diocese set a cutoff for vulnerable adults at age 25.

“There wasn’t an explanation,” she said.

Regarding the inclusion of ages 18 to 25, an FAQ page on the diocese website explains, “there is strong indication that ‘grooming’ (victims) began while the person was a minor and not at an age of consent.” Seven priests on the diocese’s list are credibly accused of abusing young adults, four of whom also allegedly abused minors.

The diocese first released its list in April 2019, including 44 priests and two deacons. A 45th priest was added in a December 2019 update, and another update this fall added six new allegations against five priests already on the list for other alleged abuse. A little less than half are deceased.

In total, these 47 clergy members “have been credibly accused of sexually abusing 146 minors or young adults,” the diocese website reads.

Priests confirmed by other dioceses

The Bee could immediately confirm nine names from SNAP’s list, not including Sabuga, who are listed by other dioceses or Franciscan orders as being credibly accused and for which those dioceses or orders also report that the clergy member served an assignment in the Sacramento area:

Former priests Frank Ivey, Conan Lee, Jorge Ortiz Lopez, Sylvester Mancuso and Claude Riffel are listed by the St. Barbara Franciscans as having credible accusations in other dioceses. All five were assigned to St. Francis in Sacramento at various points in the 20th century.

Riffel died in 1977, Lee in 1978, Mancuso in 1979 and Lopez in 2004.

Stephen J. Muth, listed by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, served at St. Andrew the Apostle in Sacramento from 1993 to 1994.

Patrick Gleeson, ordained by the Sacramento Diocese in 1943, had allegations reported in the Santa Rosa Diocese. Gleeson died in 1991.

Brother Joseph Stadfield, accused in the Los Angeles Diocese, was assigned to a Passionists church in Citrus Heights from 1985 to 1991. Stadfield died in 2001.

James Kuntz, president of Jesuit High School in Sacramento from 2000 to 2002, was sentenced in 2008 to more than three years for possession of child pornography by a New Jersey federal court.

SNAP is also asking the Sacramento Diocese to combine a list of seven other clergy with allegations acknowledged by the Jesuits West province with the main list. Currently, it is included as a hyperlink at the bottom of the credibly accused list.

SNAP urges other action

SNAP also on Wednesday called on California legislators to consider making it a crime for clergy to have sex with parishioners or those they are counseling, a step the group says 13 other states have taken.

Former Attorney General Xavier Becerra in 2019 began a sexual abuse audit, issuing subpoenas to six of California’s 12 dioceses, including Sacramento.

The investigation is ongoing, but SNAP officials said they are hopeful the attorney general’s office will provide a report or interim report identifying perpetrators.

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