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Correction: Church Abuse-Religious Order story

Monday - 4/15/2013, 5:28pm  ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- In an April 14 story about confidential personnel files on Roman Catholic religious order priests, The Associated Press reported erroneously that such clergy were loaned out to the Los Angeles Archdiocese to relieve priest shortages. Religious order priests were assigned to work in the archdiocese in many capacities.

A corrected version of the story is below:

LA priest ministered despite abuse conviction

Attorneys seek religious order files on accused priests, including 1 who served after jail


Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- When the Rev. John Anthony Salazar arrived in Tulia, Texas, in 1991, he was warmly welcomed by the Roman Catholic community tucked in the Texas Panhandle. What his new parishioners didn't know was he'd been hired out of a treatment program for pedophile priests -- and that he'd been convicted for child molestation and banned from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for life.

Over the next 11 years, Salazar would be accused of abusing four more children and young men in Texas, including an 18-year-old parishioner who suffered teeth marks on his genitals. Today he awaits trial on one molestation charge, while his accusers and former followers seek a way to move forward.

Many details of Salazar's past are contained in a confidential personnel file that was among 120 such files the Archdiocese of Los Angeles made public this year after a legal battle with abuse victims. But those records tell only part of the story.

On Tuesday, attorneys return to court to argue over the release of records for about 80 priests, including Salazar, who belonged to Roman Catholic religious orders that kept their own personnel files on accused clergymen. The hearing will address in what form and when those files will be made public, and involves orders such as the Jesuits, Salesians, Vincentians and Dominicans.

The documents are critical to understanding the full scope of the clergy abuse scandal, said Ray Boucher, who represents Los Angeles-area victims.

As part of a separate settlement, the Franciscans were forced last year to release confidential records on their members who'd been accused of molestation. The papers revealed a culture of abuse that affected generations of students at the seminary dedicated to training future Franciscans. Among the documents was a "sexual autobiography" penned by one priest as part of a therapy assignment that spelled out how he groomed children for molestation from a boys' choir that he founded.

"These orders really have a primary role and responsibility in the transfer of pedophile priests," Boucher said.

About 25 percent of priests accused of abuse in Los Angeles belonged to religious orders.

J. Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney representing more than a dozen orders involved in Tuesday's hearing, said the orders operate as separate entities from the archdiocese in financial and disciplinary matters.

"I don't think even practicing Catholics have a very clear understanding of where the lines of authority are drawn," he said.

Salazar belonged to the Piarist Fathers, a tiny order that focuses on educating poor children and administers several parishes in East Los Angeles. The order, Boucher said, still has records on Salazar that could fill in holes in his archdiocese file, which begins in 1986 when Salazar first was charged with abuse. The priest was assigned to work in the archdiocese two years earlier.

Salazar was accused of molesting children from East LA parishes, sometimes during camping trips and at a Piarist residential house, according to notes in his archdiocese file. After Salazar was arrested, the Piarists solicited character letters from his fellow priests and contacted an attorney who had helped another accused priest strike a deal to serve part of his sentence in a residential facility.

The Piarists did not return calls and emails to their LA parish or their headquarters in Miami.

Salazar pleaded guilty in 1987 to one count of oral copulation and one count of lewd or lascivious acts with a child for molesting two altar boys, ages 13 and 14. He served three years of a six-year prison term before being sent in 1990 to a residential program in New Mexico that treated pedophile priests. He was also required to register as a sex offender.

One year later, the Diocese of Amarillo hired Salazar and assigned him to a vast, rural parish in the Panhandle while he was still on parole.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been criticized for not doing more to stop abuse when he led the archdiocese, acted swiftly with Salazar. He revoked the priest's right to work within the archdiocese in 1986, the same day he learned of molestation accusations.

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