Investigation into Archdiocese Priest Abuse Records Reveals Missteps at LAUSD
FROM KCET SoCal Connected Reporter: Vince Gonzales | Associate Producer: Lata Pandya | Editor: Jack Moody | http://bit.ly/WRdywE
February 6, 2013 “” The stories are shocking -- men who call themselves holy messengers victimizing the innocent and defenseless. Each day, new details emerge from those now-public L.A. Archdiocese personnel files. And now, there is an L.A. Unified School District connection. "SoCal Connected" was the first to report on one priest who left under a cloud, only to end up working for the school system. Turns out, he's not the only Archdiocese employee with a questionable past and a link to L.A.'s schools.
Vince Gonzales/Reporter: As “SoCal Connected” reported first this weekend -- Joseph Piña, an admitted child-abusing priest, was removed from ministry by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, but soon found a home at another large, monolithic bureaucracy centered around children.
Jennifer London/Reporter [to anchor Val Zavala]: After Piña left the church, he went on to work at the L.A. Unified School District.
Val Zavala: So LAUSD hired Piña to do what?
London: He was hired as a community organizer.
London [on tape, to unidentified man]: Do you know Joseph Piña, this gentleman here? Do you know him?
Man: Yeah. I worked with him. He was the community rep before this project.
Gonzales: It's the story of two lumbering bureaucracies -- the Catholic church and the L.A. Unified School District. Both seem to excel at failing Los Angeles' most vulnerable. The Archdiocese says it did warn LAUSD about Piña, sort of. In this employment form sent to the church when Piña was applying to the district, a monsignor gave Piña mostly negative marks, answering "No" to the question, "Would you hire this person again?" And concludes by saying, "Mr. Piña has many fine qualities, but is not the most stable of individuals. I would not recommend him for a position in the schools."
LAUSD says they don't have a copy of that form and point out Piña cleared a background check. But that check should be called into question, because Piña's résumé, which the district did have, and provided to us, clearly lists several different positions within the church, which presumably should have raised red flags.
The Archdiocese wouldn't talk on camera but says this is one of several cases in which the church warned the LAUSD about people -- at least one an Archdiocese employee -- who could be of concern to the district. The church provided us with two instances. Starting in May of 2008, the Archdiocese sent a series of letters to the district, warning them that, in a civil suit against the church, this man, Renato Lopez, was accused of sexual abuse when he was a teacher and coach at Sacred Heart of Jesus High School in L.A. While the LAPD didn't arrest him, Lopez resigned from his teaching job in 2006 after an Archdiocese investigation found the accusations against him to be credible.
A year later, he became an athletic assistant at LAUSD's Woodrow Wilson High. When the archdiocese learned of Lopez's new job, its attorney sent a series of letters to the district, alerting them to his past. After the third letter and questions from the L.A. Times, Lopez was fired. When we asked if anyone checked his employment history, LAUSD told us they didn't know. emphasis added by smf
When we asked for Lopez's résumé, we were told, "Athletic assistants are at-will employees hired by the site administrator. As such, we do not have a résumé for Mr. Lopez." The school district also turned down our request for an interview.
David Ring/Attorney: They never even attempted to find out about his background at Sacred Heart.
Gonzales: Attorney David Ring brought that civil suit against the church and Lopez. He didn't realize Catholic officials were warning LAUSD about Lopez until we showed him the documents.
Ring: Today is the first day I have ever seen any of these letters from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Gonzales: Ring believes the letters were sent in response to his suit and his client learning Lopez was coaching at LAUSD.
Ring: And she was incredibly upset about that, because she had learned that he was coaching 15, 16, 17-year-old girls -- the exact age of girls, the exact age she was when he preyed upon her and took advantage of her.
Gonzales: The other case the Archdiocese gave us involves a teacher at Berendo Middle School. The Archdiocese alerted both LAUSD and the LAPD after a parishioner reported the teacher abused him years ago. The district says he was immediately removed from the classroom, but years later he's still drawing pay as a teacher.
The archdiocese says it has sent many such letters to the district, but would not provide any more examples. For Ring the message is clear.
Ring: It says that the LAUSD had really better take a close hard look in what they do to vet potential employees who work with kids, because they are not doing a good job.
(The video clip includes additional material)