Dan Rather‘s HDNet show Dan Rather Reports just launched a deeply troubling investigation into the LA Archdiocese’s woefully inadequate procedure for vetting priests. The story reveals that Father Fernando Lopez-Lopez, who molested three teenage boys in Los Angeles, had already been arrested for child abuse in Italy when he showed up unannounced in Los Angeles asking for a job several years ago. He was given one in Koreatown–a position that necessitated him working closely with children–despite the fact that then-Cardinal Roger Mahony had promised a new “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse.
Rather’s show aired last Tuesday night and will re-air tomorrow at noon on HDNet.
FishbowlLA speaks with Rather about his investigation, after the jump:
The most shocking thing about your story was that the Archdiocese lawyer you interviewed told you–even knowing what they know now–they wouldn’t have done anything different in the screening process of Lopez. He then proceeded to compliment all the safety precautions Cardinal Mahoney had enacted to protect children. Can we honestly believe anything the Archdiocese tells us?
Can people believe anything the Archdiocese says? Yes some things. I certainly was surprised to hear him say that though. In this case, here was a priest who showed up unannounced. They either didn’t vet him–didn’t find out what a small team of journalists did with one phone call–or they ignored what they found and chose to deal in sophistry. For the archdiocese to say “we vetted this guy”—you can’t hire a janitor in most school districts without a background check.
I am not a Catholic, but I have great respect for the church–for their work with the poor and the powerless. But the church has acknowledged over 500 cases of priests abusing minors. After having gone through all that, announcing a zero tolerance policy–and then to have this guy show up unannounced and give him a job working with children…
Do you know how he was caught?
He was bringing a car load of minors back from the beach. He got in a car accident while trying to fondle a minor. The police investigating the accident asked questions and caught on to what was going on. I won’t bore you with all the details. But if all it took was for us to make one telephone call to Italy to determine if this man had a criminal record, what does that reveal about what the church says was a thorough vetting process?
Were you able to make contact with Fernando Lopez-Lopez for your story?
We did not find him. After his car accident, he was prosecuted, defrocked, served time and was released and deported back to Columbia.
Do you think the pedophile priests saga with the LA Archdiocese is done? Are we going to see more of these tragic stories coming out of Los Angeles?
I hope there are no more stories. But, if the past is prologue, then my fear is, yes there will be others. Let’s face it. When kids are abused as children, it tends to affect them when they grow up. Also–we didn’t deal with this in the story–but are higher ups still covering up for some priests they know to be predators? To ask the question is not to suggest I know the answer. But, given what has transpired, it’s certainly still an open question.