SAN DIEGO — Attorneys for nearly 150 people who claim sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests unsealed nearly 10,000 pages of internal church documents yesterday, revealing at least one previously unknown decades-old case in which a priest under police investigation was allowed to leave the United States after the Diocese of San Diego intervened.
After a three-year legal battle over the internal diocese records, a retired San Diego Superior Court judge ruled late Friday that they could be made public. The records are from personnel files on 48 priests who were credibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse or were named in a civil lawsuit.
The 144 plaintiffs settled with the diocese in 2007 for nearly $200 million, but the agreement stipulated that a judge would review the priests’ sealed personnel records and determine what could be made public.
The files show what the diocese knew about abusive priests, starting decades before any allegations became public, and that some church leaders shuffled priests from parish to parish or overseas despite credible complaints against them.
At least one of the priests, Gustavo Benson, is still in active ministry in the Diocese of Ensenada in Mexico, attorney Anthony DeMarco said at a news conference. It wasn’t immediately known what Benson’s position at the diocese is.
In at least one instance, the files included documented abuse by a priest whose name had not before surfaced in any lawsuit or criminal case, the Rev. Luis Eugene de Francisco, who was originally from Colombia. Police investigated de Francisco for allegedly abusing children, but the diocese convinced authorities to drop the case if the priest would return immediately to Colombia and never return.
The papers also contain documents from the files of the Rev. Anthony Rodrigue. In 1976, a group of parents in Heber, Calif., complained he had molested their children, according to court documents.
The priest was sent to a psychiatric facility in Massachusetts for treatment but was put back in ministry despite the recommendations of those who treated him.
Rodrigue, who died within the last year, later admitted he had molested between four to five children a year over a span of 22 years, said Irwin Zalkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs.