April 05, 2005

Diocese Leaders Deny Knowing Priest's History

Los Angeles Times

By Jean Guccione, Times Staff Writer

HAYWARD The Roman Catholic bishop emeritus of Oakland testified Monday that he was unaware that a priest he promoted had been accused of fondling an altar boy four years earlier.

Bishop John Cummins told jurors that he did not review the personnel file of Father Robert Ponciroli before naming him pastor of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch in 1979. The file contained an internal church memo documenting the sex-abuse allegation against the priest.

Another former high-ranking diocesan cleric, Father Brian Joyce, also testified Monday in the case in Alameda County Superior Court that he had not seen the memo written to himself by then-Bishop Floyd Begin until last year. "I was wrong," he told jurors several times in response to questions about his failure to detect problems with the priest.

The May 22, 1975, memo records the bishop's conversation with parents who told him that their son said Ponciroli "took my pants down, touched my privates." It also reports that someone saw a boy, naked from the waist up, lying on a table with Ponciroli "tickling" him.

Police found the memo in the priest's personnel file during a 2002 criminal investigation. Six felony child molestation charges against Ponciroli were later dropped because the accusations were too old. Ponciroli had admitted abuse to police and said he was "a sick puppy," according to police.

Posted by kshaw at April 5, 2005 08:32 AM