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I was age five when the bishop stood over me and said, "Stop babbling about what the priest did to you." Then, forty years later... I started babbling.
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

‘I know of no priest in our diocese involved in sex abuse of a minor.’ What Melissa Huckaby Heard, Steinbock Testimony Part Two

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As soon as I heard that Melissa Huckaby murdered 9-year-old Sandra Cantu in a church basement March 27, 2009, I got a chill. The Santillan vs. Bishop of Fresno trial had been in progress the previous weeks in Fresno, right in the middle of the Highway 5 ride between Tracy, California, where the murder and rape took place, and Wasco, where the molestations by Monsignor Anthony Herdegen of the Santillan brothers took place. The murder weapon Huckaby used was a rolling pin used to press out communion wafers in the Clover Baptist Church. As soon as I heard about the murder, I felt there might be a connection, with the extensive news coverage of the jury trial especially when Cardinal Roger Mahony testified. As the jury began deliberation in Santillan vs. Bishop of Fresno, Melissa Huckaby interrupted her preparation to teach a Sunday School class and took Sandra Cantu on a ride to the church.

At City of Angels, today we are running Day Two of the testimony of Bishop John Steinbock in that trial. The Bishop of Fresno's first day of testimony is here in Part One of this series posted October 28, 2010.

This story of the connection between Cantu’s murder and the Fresno trial has been simmering at City of Angels Blog for a while. I've thought about going North to visit Huckaby in prison and ask her, was there a connection between the trial and the mania inside your head the day you murdered Cantu? Was it a coincidence that you murdered Cantu just hours after Catholic leaders did a PR routine under oath testifying they knew nothing of pedophile priest crimes? I thought of traveling to interview Huckaby and ask her those questions, but now City of Angels is going the other direction to Albuquerque, to write about Servants of the Paraclete starting next week. We can always visit Huckaby in prison years from now. She isn’t going anywhere.

Meanwhile here is more official transcript from March 23, 2009, day two of Bishop Steinbock’s testimony. Part 3, in this series “What Melissa Huckaby Heard” will be transcript of the trial from March 26, 2009, the day before Huckaby interrupted her work scissoring magazine pictures for a Sunday School project to murder Sandra Cantu in the basement of the church where her grandfather was pastor.

IN THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF FRESNO
CENTRAL DIVISION
Before the Honorable Donald S. Black, Judge
Department 97B

GEORGE SANTILLAN, individually and)
HOWARD SANTILLAN, individually, )
Case No. 03CECG04480
Plaintiffs,
-vs-
DEFENDANT JOHN DOE 1, DEFENDANT
JOHN DOE 2, DEFENDANT JOHN DOE 3,
and DOES through 100, inclusive,)

JURY TRIAL VOLUME IV

MR. ANDERSON: There is in the testimony of Bishop Steinbock and the cross-examination, an additional matter that I intend to cross-examine him on.
THE COURT: Well, Bishop Steinbock is here. Do you want him in the courtroom listening to this?
MR. ANDERSON: No.
THE COURT: Would you step outside, Bishop Steinbock.
MR. ANDERSON: The matter that I expect to come up, Your Honor, pertains to the testimony given by Bishop Steinbock late in the day when we- before we recessed. And in particular to the topic of all the things that he and they are doing. And among those, Exhibit 529, in which, and I quote from it, he makes assurances, "I want to assure everyone that I know of no priest active in ministry in our Diocese that has been involved in a sexual abuse of a minor."
THE COURT: What is the date of that?
MR. ANDERSON: That's 2002, Your Honor. I have the exhibit here if you'd like to see that.
MS. McGUIRE: Well, we redacted that.
THE COURT: Is that portion redacted?
MR. DE MARCO: That portion wasn't redacted.
MR. ANDERSON: No. And -- and I was asking about that as well. And, Your Honor, I intend to offer the finding -- cross-examine the witness first, but offer the finding that was made in this court pertaining to Father Swearingen in which the jury found that he had committed sexual abuse against a minor.
THE COURT: But that was after 2002, wasn't it?
MR. ANDERSON: It was. But he's making an affirmative representation that this was the case then and has done nothing to revoke that, otherwise clarify it, and continues to make that representation. And I'm further prepared to offer proof that Swearingen is in ministry involving youth at the current time.
MS. McGUIRE: Your Honor, what is that -- we've already been around this several times in motion in limine and agreed that the Court has ruled that no other cases will come in. How is that relevant?
THE COURT: But I also indicated the other day that it's getting closer and closer. And the problem here, the problem is- and what I've learned since we first addressed this issue- is that the church has been making representations 12 about this. And I just- ultimately, I don't know what I'm going to do with this, but it concerns me that the jury is- has been given the impression that there are no other cases like this.
MS. McGUIRE: Well, Your Honor, we can redact that out of the- the jury has not seen this.
THE COURT: But it's already there. I mean, it was there -- to some extent it was there in Bishop Steinbock's testimony last week that he commissioned Mr. Gordon to do an- to do an investigation and-
MS. McGUIRE: But he --
THE COURT: -it came up clean.
MS. McGUIRE: He clarified that by saying it wasn't Gordon that did the investigation; it was Father Avila.
THE COURT: I don't know how much he clarified it, but 1 that's what I'm concerned about and that's what I'm listening for.
MS. McGUIRE: We can redact that out if they're concerned about that. But now to get into issues involving Father Eric Swearingen and turn this case into what's- what's going on with him, I just don't understand how that would be relevant. The Bishop hasn't made any representations that there is no other priest that's been accused in this Diocese. He's made no representations in his testimony that there's no other accusations being made against other priests in this Diocese.
MR. ANDERSON: Counsel -- Your Honor, that's for counsel to argue. The fact of the matter is the exhibit is in evidence. He had it read to every parish and has made affirmative representations to this Court and to this jury throughout his testimony, both yesterday- the last day we were in court and the day before, that there are no credibly accused priests out there.
THE COURT: What is the date of that letter?
MR. ANDERSON: The date of this is April 7th, 2002.
THE COURT: And when was Swearingen first accused?
MR. ANDERSON: September of 2002.
THE COURT: After that letter?

********************
Q: I'm going to ask you to read what you had read in all the parishes in the Diocese in April of 2002, beginning with "we."
A "We are all shocked by the sad and unfortunate scandals in the church that have appeared in the media, even though the scandals are not as widespread as the secular media may suggest. The scandal still exists and troubles us all greatly. I want to assure everyone that I know of no priest active in ministry in our Diocese that has been involved in the sexual abuse of a minor."
********************************


MR. ANDERSON: Yeah. And the jury verdict, of course, finding that he had committed the offenses was after that. However, on Thursday late, this Bishop- and Mr. De Marco has some of the testimony- made a number of representations to the jury, Your Honor, suggesting that they're doing all these things to protect the children, among them safe harbor programs, outreach to victims, candor with the people. And not only to this exhibit, but the adjudication of Swearingen and the report made in 2002, late, and the subsequent adjudication and a finding that he had committed abuse clearly impeaches every one of those assertions. And frankly, Your Honor, I think Bishop Steinbock is- is misleading the Court and attempting to mislead the jury by saying that he's done all the right things even more recently when, in fact, he put Swearingen back in ministry after that finding by the jury that this Court presided and continues him in ministry to youth. And I have evidence- it can be shown very briefly by cross-examination- of that very fact and very briefly. It is proper impeachment. It is a door opened by their witness and Bishop Steinbock, and we're allowed to bring it out.
MR. DE MARCO: The testimony relating to conduct in recent days, recent years, is at pages 433 and 434 of Thursday's transcript. But defense counsel asked him, "What are you doing now to protect children?" And he gave a laundry list of things and -- creating the impression they're taking responsible action now. That is a concrete thing that can be shown where they're not looking out to protect children.
THE COURT: Anything else?
MS. McGUIRE: Your Honor, I just- under 352, I think it is --
THE COURT: Haven't you -- haven't you -- or hasn't the Bishop created an impression that is to some extent impeached by this information?
MS. McGUIRE: Your Honor, I don't believe so. I think what he -
THE COURT: Why?
MS. McGUIRE: -what he did is he went through an explanation of what they're currently doing in terms of fingerprinting and with employees and that type of thing.
THE COURT: Do you have the transcript?
MR. DE MARCO: Yes, Your Honor. It's- well, I've got it on my computer. I have the physical, but I can point out to the exact pages, pages 433 and 434--
THE COURT: We'll take a break and the reporter-
MR. DE MARCO: I can certainly read it.
THE COURT: We'll take a break, and the reporter will get the transcript.
MS. McGUIRE: Your Honor, I just request, again, that the Exhibit 529, that we redact the line that they're concerned about and also that it did happen prior to any accusations against Father Swearingen.
THE COURT: We'll be off the record now so that the reporter can go back and get the transcript.
(Thereupon a discussion was held off the record.)
THE COURT: All right. We'll be back on the record, then. I have the transcript here. What -- what were the pages, Mr. De Marco?
MR. DE MARCO: Pages 433 through 434, Your Honor. And it starts on 433 at about line 5.
THE COURT: Okay. Let me just read that. All right. Any other comments from anyone? I've read that portion of the transcript now.
MS. McGUIRE: Just submitted, Your Honor.
THE COURT: All right. I'm going to allow the evidence regarding Swearingen. It seems to me that certainly there are huge issues and it is potentially prejudicial, but I do think that the impression has been created that since this information about Herdegen came to light, that the church, the Diocese, has gone to great lengths to see to it that priests who are suspected of this kind of conduct are not exposed to children. And we do have the jury finding in the Swearingen case that abuse occurred. So it seems to me that it's very relevant for purposes of impeaching that position and the Bishop. So you'll be permitted to cross-examine Bishop Steinbock concerning that.
MS. McGUIRE: Your Honor, is there any kind of instruction? It doesn't have anything to do with the issues in this case.
THE COURT: Well, it is impeachment evidence, and so it has to do with credibility. Okay. Anything else? We have -- we're going to finish Bishop Steinbock today.


CONT'D RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. ANDERSON
REDIRECT EXAMINATION BY MS. McGUIRE
RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. ANDERSON
FURTHER RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. DE MARCO
FURTHER REDIRECT EXAMINATION BY MS. McGUIRE
FURTHER RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. ANDERSO

THE COURT: And for the record, Counsel and the jurors are present. And now Bishop Steinbock is seated in the witness stand.
Mr. Anderson, you may resume your cross– your re cross examination.
MR. ANDERSON: Thank you, Your Honor.
CONTINUED RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. ANDERSON:
Q Bishop Steinbock, good morning to you.
A Good morning.
Q When we adjourned on Thursday, I had begun to question you about your testimony and some of the assurances you had made to us and to the jury about all the things that you as the Bishop and the Diocese are doing to protect the children. You remember how you had told us about that?
A Yes.
Q I'm going to direct your attention, Bishop, to Exhibit 529. And in the exhibit binder you see before you- and, Your Honor, I'm going to direct the witness on this exhibit specifically to portions of it.
THE COURT: Okay.
MR. ANDERSON: Q-- you'll see Exhibit 528. And just to refresh the jury's recollection of this, this is the memo that you sent to all pastors and administrators. Don't put that up, Counsel. Don't put that up. Counsel, take it down, please. And this is the memo that said you should read your memo to-- excuse me. This is Exhibit 528. Is to all pastors and administrators from you; correct?
A Yes.
Q And it says it's very important; right?
A Yes, yes.
Q Okay. And it's also a memo to deacons and deacon candidates also; correct?
A Yes.
Q And it's telling all these clerics to read your- your memorandum, your statement to the people, which is dated 5/29; correct?
A I also say to put it in the bulletins and read it, both.
Q Okay. And I was just going to say that. So at the top of 529 you state, "For the bulletins to be read in all the Masses on April 6th and 7, 2002, a letter from our Bishop John T. Steinbockl," correct?
A Yes.
Q And this was read under your instructions?
A Yes.
Q In every parish, all hundred and-- how many are there in the Diocese?
A Eighty-six and forty missions.
Q And 135,000 square miles was it, did you say, in the Diocese?
A Over 35,000.
Q 35,000. Okay.
Now, Bishop, you begin by stating, "My dear people of God"; correct?
A Yes.
Q Now, I want to direct your attention to the first paragraph of this. And I'm going to ask you to read what you had read in all the parishes in the Diocese in April of 2002, beginning with "we."
A "We are all shocked by the sad and unfortunate scandals in the church that have appeared in the media, even though the scandals are not as widespread as the secular media may suggest. The scandal still exists and troubles us all greatly. I want to assure everyone that I know of no priest active in ministry in our Diocese that has been involved in the sexual abuse of a minor."

********************
Q Bishop, do you believe that Father Eric Swearingen sexually abused anybody?
A Absolutely not.
Q Has anyone ever come to you and told you that they're uncomfortable with Father Swearingen ministering to their children?
A No.

(CofA: Considering the record of Church hierarchy reporting these crimes, how do we know he’s telling the truth?)
********************************


Q Bishop, when you write: "I want to assure everyone that I know of no priest active in ministry in our Diocese that has been involved in the sexual abuse of a minor," you make no mention here that Monsignor Herdegen had had credible allegations made against him, do you?
A I had no--
Q You make no mention of that, do you?
A There were no credible allegations when this letter was read.
Q Now, when you make this assertion also-- no, not assertion, assurance to the people, you use the word, "I want to assure everyone," that is all the people, isn't it?
A Yes.
Q After you made this assurance and had it read to all the people, did you after April of 2002, go back and since that time assure-- tell the people that you returned a credibly accused priest to ministry?
A I never have returned anyone that I believed was guilty of sexual abuse.
Q That's you believe; correct?
A Yes.
Q Bishop Steinbock, are you aware that a jury sitting just as this jury is sitting here today heard testimony against Father Eric Swearingen, one of our priests and found in this very courtroom in 2006 that Father Eric Swearingen had committed sexual abuse against a minor?
A I do not believe that was credible at all.
Q And after that jury so found that Eric Swearingen, Father Eric Swearingen, had committed sexual abuse against that minor, you, not believing that it happened, returned him to ministry and he is currently in ministry in this Diocese as we speak; correct?
A Yes.
Q And he's giving Mass as recent as this last weekend and ministering to the youth of this Diocese as we conduct this trial now; correct?
A Yes.
MR. ANDERSON: Nothing further.
THE COURT: Mr. De Marco?
MR. DE MARCO: Nothing further, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Any other questions?
MS. McGUIRE: Thank you, Your Honor.
REDIRECT EXAMINATION
BY MS. McGUIRE:
Q Bishop, do you believe that Father Eric Swearingen sexually abused anybody?
A Absolutely not.
Q Has anyone from the parish in which he's ministering ever come to you and asked you to remove him from that parish?
A No.
Q Has anyone ever come to you and told you that they're uncomfortable with Father Swearingen ministering to their children?
A No.
Q Now, we talked a little bit last week about taking away the faculties of a priest and questions were asked about laicizing a priest. By taking away the faculties of a priest, does that mean that that individual can no longer act as a priest in any capacity?
A He may not exercise any ministry as a priest.
Q And would laicizing a priest already taken out of the ministry have any practical effect?
A It would have the same effect as I take away his faculties. They cannot act as a priest.
Q I'm going to ask you, Bishop, do you have the Exhibit 529 in front of you?
A Yes.
Q Okay. Would you go ahead-- you already read the first paragraph for the jury. Would you just go ahead and read for the jury the rest of the letter that you directed to have written to all of the parishes and missions within the Diocese back on April 6th and 7th of 2002.
A (Reading.) "The ministry of the church is about healing, mercy, and also justice. To put everyone's concern to rest, I would ask anyone who has ever been sexually abused as a minor by any priest to report that information directly to the proper police authorities. I also encourage reporting to the police any sexual abuse a person may have experienced from any adult. "According to our long-standing diocesan policy, if we receive a report of a priest involved in the sexual abuse of a minor and that report appears to have substance, the priest is placed on administrative leave immediately while there is an investigation, and we immediately make the required report to police authorities. "For us to properly and fairly investigate, we need firsthand knowledge or links to firsthand knowledge, preferably in writing. As has always been our policy, we offer professional counseling to help with the healing of long-term psychological and spiritual harm. No priest who poses a danger to children is allowed to minister in this Diocese. "By this public statement and invitation, I hope to have our Diocese get past this dysfunctional situation and move forward-- forward as the church of the third millennium, giving witness to the
truth and love of our Lord as he intended. "Pray for your priests who are affected greatly by these scandals. Remember, there are over 47,000 priests in our country, and although one is too many, scandals involve a very small percentage of the priests. Reassure your parish priest of your personal confidence to provide him the support he needs in this time of suspicion unfairly cast on all priests. We are blessed with good and faithful priests in our Diocese. "Pray also for the Bishops who may have made wrong decisions at times, but give them the benefit of the doubt that they made those decisions on what information they had at the time in good faith. Despite the sins of many within the church, the church is also filled with the holiness of Christ through the spirit present to us through the sacraments and the Eucharist empowering us to bring that holiness and transformation to the world. "St. Paul tells us, 'For those who love God, all things work out unto good.' This means that the power of God's love can bring good out of evil itself. I have the hope and faith that all of us in the church-- Bishops, priests, religious and laity-- will emerge stronger servants of God and of our church, and our church will continue to be a sign of God's love all the more in our world. "God bless you all, amen. Bishop John T. Steinbock."
Q Bishop Steinbock, do you believe that Father Eric Swearingen poses a danger to children?
A Absolutely not.
Q Has anyone from the parish in which he ministers come to you and told you that they believe he poses a threat to children-
A No.
MS. McGUIRE: -at this time? No further questions.
THE COURT: Any other questions?
MR. ANDERSON: Yes, Your Honor.
FURTHER RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. ANDERSON:
Q Isn't it true that the jury sitting in 2006 that heard the evidence at that time against Swearingen, that they found that he had sexually abused a minor?
A Yes.
Q And you put him back in ministry after that?
A Because I believe he was absolutely innocent.
Q You believed that Swearingen was innocent the same way you believed that Herdegen was innocent when he told you he hadn't abused; right?
A I took his faculties away immediately when I heard there was credible evidence, immediately.
Q You're talking about Herdegen?
A Yes.
Q You just asserted that there's no difference between taking his faculties away and removing him from the clerical state; is that what you were suggesting?
A Only in the fact that they can never- no longer actively act as a priest.
Q Well, Herdegen still has the ability to minister privately and is still receiving all the benefits and all the privileges and all the power that a priest enjoys to this day; correct?
A No.
Q The only benefit he doesn't have to this day as a priest of this Diocese is that he can't minister-- use his faculties publicly; correct?
A He can't use his- act as a priest whatsoever.
Q And he still receiving money, is he not, in pension?
A In his pension.
Q And he's sending money to you and the Diocese still to this day?
A I do not know that.
Q Do you recall Monsignor Herdegen sending a very large sum of money?
A Yes.
Q How much?
A $21,000.
Q When was that?
A I don't remember.
Q You recall him sending, even more recently than that 21,000, another large sum of money for the Priest Relief Fund or to you to be used by the Diocese?
MS. McGUIRE: Objection. Relevance. Motion in limine.
THE COURT: Sustained.
MR. ANDERSON: Q After Father Eric Swearingen was found by a jury sitting in this courtroom to have sexually abused a youth, you issued a public statement to the people and the community that Swearengin was innocent; correct?
A That I believed he was absolutely innocent.
MR. ANDERSON: That's all I have.
THE COURT: Mr. De Marco?

FURTHER RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. DE MARCO:

Q Bishop, in the 2002 letter that you just read off, you sought to assure the people of faith that- or asked them to pray for the Bishops even if there had been mistakes made. You did so utilizing all information that was available to you and acting in good faith based on that, you asked them to pray for you for that?
A I asked them to pray for all Bishops, not just me.
Q Including yourself?
A Including myself in there.
Q So in 1995 it's your testimony that you acted in good faith, utilizing all the information that was available to you when Monsignor Herdegen came to you?
A Yes.
Q Including looking through that personnel file sitting right in front of you?
MS. McGUIRE: Objection--
THE WITNESS: I only looked for--
THE COURT: What's the objection?
MS. McGUIRE: Asked and answered.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE WITNESS: I only looked in the confidential file.
MR. DE MARCO: Q So you had that file available to you, though, did you not?
A Yes.
Q But you didn't look through it?
A No.
Q So you didn't act in good faith looking through all available information, did you?
A My good faith was if there was anything confidential of sexual abuse, it would be in the confidential file.
Q But it's true, isn't it, that you have attempted to give the impression to the people of faith in this Diocese that you have availed yourself of all information available to you, haven't you?
MS. McGUIRE: Objection. Vague.

**********************
ANDERSON: Q Isn't it true that the jury sitting in 2006 that heard the evidence at that time against Swearingen, that they found that he had sexually abused a minor?
STEINBOCK Yes.
Q And you put him back in ministry after that?
A Because I believe he was absolutely innocent.
*************************************


THE COURT: Do you understand the question, Bishop Steinbock?
THE WITNESS: Not really.
THE COURT: All right.
MR. DE MARCO: Q With regards to your response of childhood sexual abuse, you've attempted to give the impression, give the assurance to the people of this Diocese that you do look at all available information before making these grave decisions of possibly putting child molesters in ministry?
A I make a decision from what knowledge I have.
MR. DE MARCO: No further questions.
THE COURT: Any other questions?
MS. McGUIRE: Just one follow-up.
FURTHER REDIRECT EXAMINATION BY MS. McGUIRE:
Q Bishop, is it your understanding that Monsignor Herdegen's pension is fully vested and cannot be revoked?
A Yes.
Q There's nothing you can do about that, is there?
A No.
MS. McGUIRE: Thank you.
THE COURT: Anything else?
MR. ANDERSON: Two things.
FURTHER RECROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. ANDERSON:
Q His- his other privileges can be revoked if you petition Rome for his defrocking or removal from the clerical state; correct?
A You'll have to explain to me what are his other privileges.
Q His ability to hold himself out as a priest in good standing.
A He's not a priest in good standing.
Q His ability to hold himself out as a priest and to receive the-- all the accolades, such as being able to meet with the Pope and to celebrate his anniversaries in the ministry publicly. Those are privileges, aren't they?
A Not now, because I removed his faculties.
Q In the exhibit that you read, Bishop, you said pray for your priests and pray for the Bishops. I didn't see anything in here that was read in the Diocese to pray for the victims. There isn't anything, is there?
A Yes, I've done that in other things.
Q There's nothing in here, is it?
A Not in that particular letter.
MR. ANDERSON: That's it.
THE COURT: Anything else?
MS. McGUIRE: No.
THE COURT: May this witness be excused?
MR. ANDERSON: Yes.
MR. DE MARCO: Yes, Your Honor.
MS. McGUIRE: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Thank you very much, Bishop Steinbock.
You're excused. Have a nice day.
THE WITNESS: Thank you.
THE COURT: And, Mr. Anderson, you may call your next witness.

*****************************

A P P E A R A N C E S:

FOR THE PLAINTIFF HOWARD SANTILLAN:
ANTHONY M. DE MARCO
Kiesel Boucher & Larson LLP
8648 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, California 90211

and

ROBERT WATERS
Drivon, Turner & Waters
215 N. San Joaquin Street
Stockton, California 95202

FOR THE PLAINTIFF GEORGE SANTILLAN:

JEFFREY R. ANDERSON
Jeff Anderson & Associates, PA
366 Jackson Street, Suite 100
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101

FOR THE DEFENDANTS: ROSEMARY T. McGUIRE & JAMES WEAKLEY
Weakley, Arendt & McGuire LLP
1630 East Shaw Avenue, Suite 176
Fresno, California 93710

************************

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