Court case reveals diocese pattern of sending problem priests to desert

BARSTOW • As the sex abuse scandals that plague the Catholic Church continue to make headlines, a recent lawsuit has brought new information to light regarding the San Diego Diocese’s placement of priests with a history of sexual abuse in desert parishes, including St. Joseph Catholic Church in Barstow.

One man involved in the lawsuit, known only as John Roe 65, says that he was abused by a priest at St. Joseph in 1972 while attending school there. The lawsuit was settled out-of-court last week for an undisclosed amount. The school at St. Joseph closed in 2002.

Roe 65 was able to file the suit because he served in the United States Navy from 1977 until 2006, and statutes of limitation do not apply while a person is serving in the military.

The two priests named in the lawsuit who served at St. Joseph are Anthony Rodrigue and John Keith.

Anthony Rodrigue served as a priest in Barstow from 1972 to 1973, according to court documents. Rodrigue began his career in the church in La Jolla in 1962 and  transferred to a parish in Lakeside in 1964. He was then transferred to a parish in Encinitas two blocks from the beach in 1967, where he was confronted by a boy from his Lakeside assignment saying he abused him. In fall of 1967 a diocese official met with Rodrigue and discussed allegations of sexual misconduct.

According to court documents, Rodigue was informed at that meeting that he would be transferred to a parish in Calexico, where he began a string of assignments at desert parishes. Boys at the parish in Calexico reported abuse at his hands to other priests, and Rodrigue was then transferred to Indio and later Barstow in January of 1972.

From Barstow Rodrigue was transferred to El Centro in 1973. Court documents go on to say that Rodigue continued to be transferred from parish to parish until retiring in the late 1980s. He was released from the church in 1992 and was sentenced to prison in 1998 after he was convicted of child sexual assault. He was released in 2006 and died the next year.

Less is known about John Keith.  According to court documents, Keith served as a priest in Barstow from the late 1960s until 1976. The suit maintains that the San Diego diocese gained knowledge of Keith’s history of sexual misconduct in 1970 and continued to allow him to serve as a priest.

In response to questions about the lawsuit, the San Diego diocese issued an e-mailed statement: “The Diocese of San Diego does not comment about pending cases, but is committed to reaching out with pastoral concern and care to victims of sexual abuse and their families to promote healing and reconciliation.”

Representatives from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Barstow did not return phone calls.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4126 or adome@desertdispatch.com

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