Religious Order Files Reveal Decades of LA Abuse
Hundreds of pages of secret church files released Wednesday shed light on the troublesome careers of a dozen religious order priests, brothers and nuns accused of sexually abusing children while working in the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese.
The files include one case of a priest who admitted to having sexual contact with more than 100 boys while serving in several Southern California parishes for years.
The papers, which were released under the terms of a $660 million settlement agreement reached in 2007, are the first glimpse at what religious orders knew about the envoys they posted in Roman Catholic schools and parishes around the Los Angeles area. The archdiocese itself released thousands of pages under court order this year that covered its own priests who were accused of sexual abuse, but the full picture of sex abuse in the nation’s largest archdiocese remained elusive without the religious orders’ records.
The files cover five different religious orders that employed 10 priests or religious brothers and two nuns who were all accused in civil lawsuits of molesting children while working within the Los Angeles archdiocese. Among them, the accused had 21 alleged victims who alleged abuse between the 1950s and the 1980s.
The files include more than 500 pages on a priest named Ruben Martinez who belonged to a religious order called the U.S. Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a nearly 200-year-old Catholic organization with roots in France. The Los Angeles archdiocese settled eight lawsuits over Martinez’s actions in 2007, but had little documentation on him in its own files even though the priest worked in its parishes for years in the 1970s and 1980s.
For those who allege abuse by Martinez, the documents provide validation and reveal the years of effort his order spent trying to cure him of his pedophilia as it shuttled him between programs, including inpatient treatment, and paid for decades of therapy. Martinez also marched in a gay pride parade while serving as a priest and enrolled in a counseling program for people with sexual compulsions.
Some of the other files unsealed Wednesday, including those of the nuns, don’t mention sexual abuse at all and others appear to have large gaps in time and missing documents. The release included files from the Oblates, the Marianists, the Benedictines and two orders for religious sisters.
The fact that the files don’t reflect the abuse reported in civil lawsuits doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, said Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiff attorney coordinating the release.
"Much of this went unreported. You’re talking about kids that were terrorized and frightened in so many different ways, with no place and no one to turn to," he said.
Martinez’s file is among the most complete and paints a devastating picture of a troubled and repressed child who later joined the priesthood to satisfy a domineering and devout father. Martinez, a twin and one of nine children, grew up in the same working-class city south of Los Angeles where he is accused of later molesting children when he was posted there as a priest. Martinez also admitted in therapy to molesting his younger brother as a child, the documents show.
When he arrived in his hometown parish in 1972, he immediately began molesting children, recalled one man who sued over Martinez’s abuse. The man, now 50, requested anonymity because he is well-known in his professional life and has not spoken publicly about his case before. The AP does not publish the names of victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
"We were into wrestling characters on television and what he would do is he would have us wrestle each other and then wrestle with him, which means we’d get down into our skivvies and he’d take pictures of us. He was always taking pictures," the man said. "I just remember the smell of the old Polaroid flash cubes. He would go through them like crazy."
The man received a settlement in 2007, and Martinez was never charged criminally, in part because his alleged abuses weren’t reported until years later.
The man said Martinez always had a group of young boys around him and would take them to see R-rated movies and on group trips. One summer day, he recalled, the priest took six boys to a local amusement park, but stopped on the way at an apartment where another man lived. Martinez and the man went inside with one of the boys and left the other five in a hot car for several hours. When the trio came back, the boy was sobbing and didn’t stop for hours.
"A lot of us kind of knew what had happened to him," he recalled.
Martinez, now 72, lives in Oakland and was removed from active parish ministry in 1993. He was celebrated on the Oblates’ website last August for 50 years in the priesthood.
No one answered the door at Martinez’s listed address at the Oblate Mission House and a call was not returned.
Calls to the U.S. Province of the Oblates and emails to two attorneys representing Martinez and the three other Oblate priests whose files were released were also not returned. More files from other religious orders are expected to be released in the coming months.
Carolina Guevara, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles archdiocese, did not address the current file release specifically but said religious orders are expected to make sure the priests they present for ministry in the archdiocese don’t have any history of sex abuse.
In a 2005 psychiatric assessment, done after Martinez was caught looking at suggestive photos of boys on the Internet, the priest said he hadn’t had sexual contact with a child in 23 years and had learned to control his impulses after decades of treatment and therapy.
"It has not been easy to face what I did, to admit it and to talk about it with others," he wrote to his superior the following year. "I have had to deal with depression, self-hatred, the inability and unwillingness to forgive myself, and the desire and tendency to isolate."
But Martinez’s file reveals that church authorities had cause to doubt the priest’s self-control.
In psychological reports, the priest admits to molesting children beginning almost with his first assignment in 1970, when he began playing "giddy up" games with young boys on his lap. He stopped "direct sexual contact" with boys after a mother complained to his pastor in 1982 and stopped touching boys altogether after another complaint in 1986.
It’s unclear whether his religious order or the archdiocese was aware of those complaints, but around that time Martinez began weekly therapy sessions. He started a counseling program for people with sexual compulsions in 1986 and joined a gay pride group.
He later received inpatient treatment and was enrolled in a sex offender program after another complaint surfaced from his past. In 2003, he was moved to the Oblates’ offices in Washington, D.C. where he worked at the switchboard answering phones and in the archives.
Yet even there, Martinez ran into trouble: Within months, he was reprimanded for making off-color, sexual jokes that offended several women and, later, for looking at sexually suggestive pictures of young boys on the Internet and downloading a disk filled with "references to topics dealing with the gay lifestyle," according to the file.
"I don’t know who else has time to monitor him, or to what ’safe’ place we could assign him," the Rev. Charles Banks, the vicar provincial and director of personnel wrote in an exasperated memo.