San Diego Diocese Kept Writing Letters of Recommendation for Priest Accused of Abuse

2 min
Alleged sexual abuse victims hold a vigil to bring attention to victims of sexual abuse by leaders within the Catholic Church on March 1, 2007, in San Diego. The Diocese of San Diego recently added eight priests to a list of predator priests established by a legal case that was concluded 11 years ago. On Sept. 7, 2007, the diocese settled 144 claims of child sexual abuse by 48 priests and one lay employee. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Six years ago, the San Diego Diocese recommended a priest — who faced credible accusations of sexual abuse — to continue ministering, including to children.

The Rev. J. Patrick Foley told KQED that the sexual abuse accusations against him are “false and libelous," and that he has not held retreats or ministered to children since 1995.

But officials with the San Diego Diocese said the claims against Foley are "credible.” That’s according to a report the diocese released last week that names Foley and seven other priests as facing credible accusations of sexual misconduct with minors.

Five of those priests are believed to be deceased, one may have fled to Mexico, and two are living in California.

Despite knowing about those credible accusations of sexual abuse against Foley, the Catholic Church not only kept those accusations secret but also actively recommended him to work with minors.

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In a recommendation letter dated February 2012, San Diego's Monsignor Steven Callahan wrote that "[Foley] is a person of good moral character and reputation ... I am unaware of anything in his background that would render him unsuitable to work with children."

But in 2012, church officials had known for two years that Foley was accused of sexually abusing two boys in the Sacramento area during the 1990s.

Those accusations are confirmed in a Sacramento Police Department report from 2010. The San Diego Diocese has confirmed that the two boys were family friends of Foley's.

A canonical trial was held but it was inconclusive, said Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the diocese.

“It didn't say anybody was innocent, but it also couldn't say Father Foley was guilty,” Eckery said.

Between 2012 and 2015, Foley kept getting letters of recommendation, said Eckery.

“I know that it sounds awkward, but at the same time [after the inconclusive church trial findings], I know that some of the people in San Diego just felt they were between a rock and a hard place. What were they going to do, what were they supposed to do?”

Ultimately, the current bishop of San Diego, Robert McElroy, would strip Foley of his permission to minister in 2015, some five years after the diocese was made aware of what it describes as a credible accusation.

The San Diego Diocese did not contact other parts of the church in California to notify them of its decision.

A watchdog website, Bishop-Accountability.org, serves as an online resource, but there is no statewide registry for the 12 California Catholic dioceses to use to notify each other of problem priests.

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