Warning About Priest Didn't Prompt Inquiry

April 10, 2002

By NICK MADIGAN

New York Times

YUCCA VALLEY, Calif., April 9 - Officials of the San
Bernardino Diocese acknowledged today that they had been
told a Roman Catholic priest who was being transferred here
had been in legal trouble, but they said the warning was
not specific and they did nothing to investigate it.

The case involves the Rev. Ponciano M. Ramos, 55, who
pleaded guilty in 1993 to three misdemeanors in connection
with a strip-search of young boys in Indianapolis. Church
officials here learned of the case only last week, after
the mother of one of the boys discovered that Father Ramos
had been transferred to a parish here in the mountainous
desert 25 miles north of Palm Springs. Father Ramos
resigned from his parish, St. Mary of the Valley, on
Saturday.

This is the second such case to surface in a matter of days
in the diocese, which serves about a million Catholics. The
first was that of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who was
transferred to St. Anne Parish in the city of San
Bernardino, and later to New York, from Newton, Mass.,
despite accusations in the Boston area that he had sexually
molested children there.

In neither case were church officials here informed that
there had been complaints of abuse against the priests. In
both cases, the priests' superiors had testified as to
their good character.

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino
Diocese, said he and other officials had no reason to doubt
the sincerity of a letter of recommendation from their
counterparts in Boston written on Jan., 16, 1990.

"However," Father Lincoln said, "we relied on that letter
as to its correctness, its veracity and its credibility" in
accepting Father Shanley, who was being granted a medical
leave from the Boston diocese for an unspecified ailment.

Three years later, church officials here were told by the
Boston Archdiocese that there had been accusations of
sexual misconduct against Father Shanley, at which point
his duties at St. Anne were terminated, Father Lincoln
said.

Father Shanley's superiors were also unaware that he and
another Boston priest, the Rev. John J. White, owned a
motel in Palm Springs, the Cabana Club Resort, that catered
exclusively to gays. They sold the motel in 1997. Father
White was the sole owner of another gay-themed motel, the
Whispering Palms, which he sold in 1994.

Bishop Phillip Straling, who headed the San Bernardino
Diocese in the early 1990's and is now the bishop of the
diocese in Reno, Nev., said through a spokesman that Father
Shanley had not been given a formal assignment in San
Bernardino and had had "minimal responsibilities."

"If someone was sick or on vacation, he'd cover for them,"
said the spokesman, Brother Matthew Cunningham.

Father Lincoln said church officials here investigated
Father Shanley after it became clear he had a history of
sexual abuse to see whether he had had contact with
children in San Bernardino. He celebrated Mass at St. Anne
on an occasional basis and conducted one heavily supervised
field trip, Father Lincoln said.

Father Shanley, 70, is apparently living in San Diego but
has not come forward to comment on the accusations in
Boston, where officials received the first of at least 26
complaints about him in 1967. At least two men have
recently said they were abused by him.

The case of Father Ramos concerns an incident in 1992 at
St. Rita's Catholic School in Indianapolis. The principal
had asked him to look into who had set off stink bombs in a
classroom. Father Ramos questioned a dozen seventh- and
eighth-grade boys, and in the process he is said to have
strip-searched some of the boys and fondled at least one.

The diocesan spokesman, Father Lincoln, said that officials
at Father Ramos's order, the Society of the Divine Word,
based in Illinois, had written to the diocese in 1994 to
say Father Ramos had been involved in a legal matter that
was reduced to a misdemeanor. In addition, he said, the
order described Father Ramos as being of good moral
character and said there were no matters that would
preclude him from effectively serving the diocese.

Father Lincoln said that, given such an evaluation, the
diocese saw no need to look into the misdemeanor. But he
would have liked more details concerning the events in 1992
in Indianapolis, he said.

In light of the two cases, Father Lincoln went on, the
diocese is reviewing the files of about 400 active and
retired priests and has begun taking fingerprints and
conducting criminal background checks of priests.

"We are trying to vigilantly avoid any mistakes of the
past," Father Lincoln said. "We're trying to refine and
develop as airtight a process as possible."

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