Immigrant Communities Were The 'Geographic Solution' To Predator Priests One way Catholic leaders hid sexually abusive priests was to move them into immigrant communities where victims may be less likely to speak up.
NPR logo

Immigrant Communities Were The 'Geographic Solution' To Predator Priests

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/665251345/665833072" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Immigrant Communities Were The 'Geographic Solution' To Predator Priests

Immigrant Communities Were The 'Geographic Solution' To Predator Priests

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/665251345/665833072" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to California where survivors of clergy child sex abuse are calling on the state attorney general to investigate abuse by Catholic priests and cover-ups by church officials. Survivors also want information about the church moving abusive priests into immigrant communities where victims were less likely to speak up. From member station KPCC, Aaron Schrank reports. And a warning to our listeners - there are some graphic details of abuse.

AARON SCHRANK, BYLINE: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles sent Carlos Rodriguez into a treatment program for pedophile priests after he abused a child in South LA. Then they brought him back to minister to Spanish speakers in the Office of Family Life.

MANUEL BARRAGAN: He put on that suit to portray himself as a man of God, and he was an impostor.

SCHRANK: Manuel Barragan first met Rodriguez three decades ago.

BARRAGAN: He was a fake dude trying to get into little boys' and little girls' pants, and that's what he did.

SCHRANK: Barragan, who's now 42, grew up in the farm worker community of Santa Paula north of Los Angeles. He's devout Catholic Mexican immigrant parents met Rodriguez through a marriage retreat program.

BARRAGAN: Let me be 11 years old really quick. You know, there's trust here.

SCHRANK: The priest sexually molested Barragan for years. He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol for a decade.

BARRAGAN: I would come into my parents' house, and I would see pictures of this guy on the wall.

SCHRANK: He eventually did tell his parents about the abusive priest.

BARRAGAN: They're put on a high pedestal. Like, this is a man of God who has blessed our family. I'm devastated. I'm like, don't you see what he did to us?

SCHRANK: The family reported the priest. Three years later, representatives from the LA Archdiocese knocked on Barragan's door. They checked him into substance abuse counseling, and he started therapy. This was 2002, and California had just removed the statute of limitations for child abuse victims. Barragan joined a lawsuit against the LA Archdiocese that eventually resulted in a $660 million settlement involving more than 500 abuse cases.

TONY DEMARCO: Not many regions around the country have had that.

SCHRANK: Attorney Tony DeMarco says that settlement forced local Catholic officials to turn over thousands of pages of personnel files. They showed how higher-ups repeatedly sent predators into communities where they knew people were less likely to speak up.

DEMARCO: Blatant statements as to there is no need to take corrective action because folks who are undocumented won't report. That's in some of these files.

SCHRANK: There are dozens of examples of immigrant communities thrown under the bus, says Patrick Wall, a legal advocate who coined the term the geographic solution to describe the church's actions.

PATRICK WALL: This is a complete pattern.

SCHRANK: The country's largest Catholic archdiocese is more than three quarters Hispanic and largely immigrant.

WALL: The Latino community has never really been able to come to grips with this.

CECILIA GONZALEZ-ANDRIEU: The Latino church was already in a really painful spot and needed the Catholic Church with moral authority to continue to fight for our rights.

SCHRANK: Loyola Marymount University theologian Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu says immigrant Catholics need the church to speak out on issues related to legal status, poverty and health care.

GONZALEZ-ANDRIEU: With this scandal, that voice now is completely gone.

SCHRANK: She says the turmoil continues because Catholic leaders have been managing the problem instead of addressing it head-on.

GONZALEZ-ANDRIEU: We need to deal with that proactively.

SCHRANK: The LA Archdiocese says it's changed its ways with zero tolerance abuse policies, employee training and victims assistance programs. But it was only through legal action that Manuel Barragan learned how church leaders facilitated his abuse. He says it'll take a statewide investigation by prosecutors to deliver justice to thousands more like him.

BARRAGAN: Part of that process is accountability. How do you move on from this if nobody's taking responsibility?

SCHRANK: With 10 million Catholics in the state, victims advocates say there's much more to uncover. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Schrank in Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.