There's nothing at all hidden in that closet!

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 26, 2003

Last Sunday OTR discussed the case of a priest of the Diocese of Orange whose old computer was found by a subsequent owner to have kiddie-porn images on the hard disk. The facts of the case were admittedly fuzzy. They're no less fuzzy after pondering the following statement issued July 23rd by the diocese, perplexingly titled "Statement Regarding Breach of Confidential Deliberations in Two Sexual Misconduct Cases":

In one case, a priest of the Diocese of Orange was alleged to have improperly accessed pornographic sites while serving in another diocese out of state. Law enforcement was immediately notified of the allegation. Following the police investigation, no arrest was made and no charges were filed. That priest returned to the Diocese of Orange and the Diocese required that he undergo a thorough psychological evaluation and was placed on restricted ministry in an adult only environment, while his case was pending before the Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board. He is not allowed to conduct public ministry in any parish and is serving in an administrative "desk job". The priest has not been allowed Internet web access and is currently continuing in counseling.

Alleged, you say. Well, did he or didn't he? His restricted ministry can perfectly well be understood as a precautionary measure, exercised without prejudice to the reputation of the priest while the review board conducts its investigation. But can the same be said about his "continuing in counseling"? If he ain't broke, why fix him?

The LA Times today identifies the accused priest as Fr. Cesar Salazar. Its account differs from that of the diocese:

Salazar is one of two priests assigned to work at St. Joseph Church, a parish with 2,000 families in Santa Ana, and one of four who live in the rectory. Salazar still celebrates Mass with the assistance of altar boys and hears confessions at the church, whose parishioners haven't been told of the priest's restricted status, according to diocesan officials.

This sounds like "public ministry" to me. Perhaps the diocese is unaware of his activities; perhaps the same vigilance is used to enforce his prohibition of "Internet web access." Did the bishop assign him a round-the-clock minder who ensures he won't walk into a downtown Internet cafe? But even more vexing is the diocese's "no arrest was made and no charges were filed" spin. That's meant to sound like an exoneration. Back to the Times:

Santa Ana Police Sgt. Baltazar De La Riva said the diocese reported the find after the pictures were discovered. Officers conducted an investigation that included interviews with witnesses and a computer analysis. Detectives submitted their report to the Orange County district attorney's office in October 2001, recommending that Salazar be charged with felony possession of child pornography, De La Riva said. The next day, prosecutors rejected the case for lack of evidence. Church officials said prosecutors believed it would be difficult to prove which of the computer's users was responsible for the pornography.

Well, did he or didn't he? The DA's knockdown simply means they can't get a conviction. It doesn't mean Salazar is innocent of downloading porn. Look, for all we know, Salazar may be pure as the driven snow. But if so, the diocese isn't helping his case by posting deliberately misleading half-truths. Since we see the smoke, we're naturally going to look for the fire. Check out this earlier (July 19) diocesan statement:

The priest who was the former owner of the computer did not admit to nor was he found to have engaged in conduct that would warrant removal from ministry as required by the Diocesan policy against sexual misconduct with minors.

Wonderful. But the allegations don't concern misconduct with minors. Salazar is accused of the quite specific act of downloading child porn. Everytime you answer a question different from the one you were asked, you add to our suspicion that the question we did ask has an answer you don't want to give.

Did he or didn't he?

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