RIO DE JANEIRO - There he was, five decades later, the priest who had raped Joe Callander in Massachusetts. The photo in the Roman Catholic newsletter showed him with a smile across his wrinkled face, near-naked Amazon Indian children in his arms and at his feet. The Rev. Mario Pezzotti was working with children and supervising other priests in Brazil.
It’s not an isolated example.
In an investigation spanning 21 countries across six continents, The Associated Press found 30 cases of priests accused of abuse who were transferred or moved abroad. Some escaped police investigations.
Many had access to children in another country, and some abused again.
A priest who admitted to abuse in Los Angeles went to the Philippines, where U.S. church officials mailed him checks and advised him not to reveal their source. A priest in Canada was convicted of sexual abuse and then moved to France, where he was convicted of abuse again in 2005. Another priest was moved back and forth between Ireland and England, despite being diagnosed as a pederast, a man who commits sodomy with boys.
“The pattern is if a priest gets into trouble and it’s close to becoming ascandal or if the law might get involved, they send them to the missions abroad,” said Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and critic of what he says is a practice of international transfers of accused and admitted priest child abusers. “Anything to avoid a scandal.”
Church officials say that in some cases, the priests themselves moved to another country and the new parish might not have been aware of past allegations. In other cases, church officials said they did not believe the allegations, or that the priest had served his time and reformed.
——— Callander says he was 14 when he was raped three times and abused on other occasions in 1959 at the now-closed Xaverian Missionary Faith High School in Holliston, Mass. The Xaverians settled the case for $175,000 in 1993. At least two other accusations of
sexual abuse were leveled against Pezzotti in the Boston area.
In the meantime, from 1970 to 2003, Pezzotti was in Brazil, where he worked with the Kayapo Indians. In a handwritten note of apology to Callander in January 1993, Pezzotti said he had cured himself in the jungle.
“I asked to leave Holliston and go to Brazil to change my life and begin a new life. Upon arrival in Brazil, confiding in God’s mercy, I owned up to the problem,” Pezzotti wrote. “With divine help, I overcame it.” There is no evidence that Pezzotti, now 75, abused children in Brazil, which has more Catholics than any other nation. Brazilian law enforcement officials said they were unaware of any complaints about him.
The Rev. Robert Maloney, provincial of the Xaverians who worked closely on Callander’s settlement, said Pezzotti was allowed to stay in Brazil for another decade and work with children after a psychological evaluation. He added that a Xaverian investigation into Pezzotti and his work in Brazil turned up nothing.
After Pezzotti returned to Italy in 2003, “he was constantly being asked for by Brazil and by the people he worked with,” Maloney added. In 2008, Pezzotti returned to Brazil. A few months later, Callander saw the photos of him on the Internet and complained to the church. The priest was quickly sent back to Italy.
The Xaverian vicar general, Rev. Luigi Menegazzo, said Pezzotti works at Xaverian headquarters in Parma tending to sick and elderly priests. Asked if Pezzotti had any contact with children or public parish work, he said, “Absolutely in no way.” Reached by telephone, Pezzotti said only: “I don’t see why I have to talk about it. Everything was resolved and I don’t feel like talking.”
——— Father Vijay Vhaskr Godugunuru was forced to return to India and then was transferred to Italy after pleading no contest to assaulting a 15-year-old girl while visiting friends in Bonifay, Fla. He now ministers to a parish in a medieval town of about 4,000 in Tuscany, where he hears confessions, celebrates Mass and works with children.
The bishops supervising him said they were aware of the case but believed he was innocent. “The evidence that has been given does not support the accusation,” Monsignor Rodolfo Cetoloni, the bishop of the Montepulciano diocese, told the AP last week.
Cetoloni said he saw no reason for any restrictions. Godugunuru, now 40, “enjoys the esteem of everybody,” he said. Godugunuru had been charged with fondling a parishioner in her family’s van on June 23, 2006. The priest, visiting from India’s diocese of Cuddapah, had been allowed to assist at the Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Bonifay.
The girl, now 19, told police in a sworn statement that Godugunuru “fondled her breasts and penetrated her vagina with his fingers.” In his own interview with police, Godugunuru said the girl “had taken his hand and placed it between her legs.” He denied intentionally touching her.
The priest was arrested the next month for lewd or lascivious battery on a minor. He faced up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine but
in exchange for his no contest plea was required to return to India, undergo counseling, not supervise minors for a year and not return to the United States.
The girl’s mother brought the case to the attention of Pope Benedict XVI. “My family and others have been forced out of our church,” she wrote in an Aug. 23, 2006, e-mail obtained by the AP. “Just when our faith and our faith in our church were tested most, our Priest chose the side of silence. ... To make matters worse, it was my daughter who was the one being attacked and he just sat back and watched."
“This is the biggest problem my family has ever dealt with,” she continued. “Please Father, help us. Remember us in your prayers, especially for the speedy healing of my daughter.” The e-mail also said she had contacted the bishop of Cuddapah, the Most Rev. Doraboina Moses Prakasam, and asked if there had been any past accusations of sexual improprieties against Godugunuru. “I have not heard back from him and I don’t expect to,” she said. The pope never answered.
Prakasam told the AP he was under the impression that Godugunuru had been absolved of the charges.
“What I was told by the people looking after that case was that he was cleared and ... he was allowed to come back to India,” he said. He said he told the Italian bishop of the case when Godugunuru moved to Tuscany.
The priest of San Lorenzo parish told the AP by phone last week that Godugunuru works as his deputy. He refused further comment, except to say that Godugunuru “does what all deputy parish priests do” and “helps the parish priest.” Godugunuru declined to be interviewed by the AP.
——— Clodoveo Piazza is an Italian Jesuit who ran a homeless shelter for street children and worked in Brazil for 30 years. In 2005, he was awarded $600,000 from Brazil’s national development bank to set up four facilities in the northeastern city of Salvador.
Last August, prosecutors said at least eight boys and young men had come forward to say either that they were abused by Piazza or that he allowed visiting foreigners to sexually abuse boys. Brazilian police are seeking his arrest.
Piazza now works in Mozambique, according to the Catholic nonprofit Organizzazione di Aiuto Fraterno, and the church has come to his defense.
“The Italian Jesuits express their solidarity with the brother and father Piazza,” reads one note on the religious order’s Web site. The nonprofit adds that “the slander against missionaries is becoming an increasingly popular game.” Brazilian prosecutors say Piazza, a naturalized Brazilian, has refused to respond to the charges of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
Interviewed in Maputo, Mozambique, this week, Piazza said the charges were false and part of a campaign to blackmail him by “political circles” in Brazil that he did not identify. He said he had been acquitted of the charges twice in Brazil, and that there is no evidence against him.
A spokeswoman with Bahia state’s Public Ministry said there were no records of Piazza ever being tried or acquitted and that the case against him is still open. She spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with department policy.
“This is propaganda in order to earn money,” Piazza told the AP, saying people in Brazil had asked him for money, which he could not pay. He said he has been living in a Jesuit residence in Maputo for about seven months. He said he was working with Italy’s Turino University on “economic projects” and was not working with children.
——— Joseph was a 26-year-old student at St. John Provincial Seminary in Detroit, Mich., in 1988 when he was convicted of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old boy. He was given three years’ probation and dismissed from his seminary.
Two decades later, he lives in the Philippines, where he was ordained a priest and now serves as parochial vicar of the St. Vincent Ferrer parish in the remote town of Calape, according to the diocese directory. He is also a popular gospel singer in the heavily Catholic country.
Reached on his cell phone, Skelton declined comment. He finished his seminary studies in Manila, the capital, and was ordained in 2001 in the diocese of Tagbilaran in Bohol province.
The bishop who ordained Skelton said he wouldn’t have made him a priest if he had known about the criminal conviction.
“I ordained him because, while there was some talk about his effeminate ways, there was no case against him,” Bishop Leopoldo S. Tumulak said. Tumulak, who has since stepped down, said it would be up to his successor to reopen the case.
“The priest is trying to live well,” Tumulak said. “If he has really changed, the heart of the church is compassionate — although in America, Europe, they have different ways of looking at it. Not the church, but the government, the people. In the Philippines, it’s a little bit different.”
The archdiocese of Detroit, after learning Skelton had been ordained, sent a letter about his conviction to the Tagbilaran diocese in early 2003. Tumulak, the former bishop, said he doesn’t remember if he received the letter, and in any case it would have been too late. Informed of the case, current Bishop Leonardo Medroso said he would investigate. But he added: “The case has been judged already. He was convicted and that means to say he has served already the conviction. So what obstacle can there be if he has already served his punishment or penalty?”
——— Transferring abusive priests was called “the geographical cure,” according to Terry Carter, a New Zealand victim. Carter won $32,000 in compensation from the Society of Mary, which oversees the Catholic boarding school outside Wellington where he was abused by the Rev. Allan Woodcock.
Woodcock molested at least 11 boys at four church facilities in New Zealand before being sent by the church to Ireland. He was extradited to New Zealand in 2004, pleaded guilty to 21 sexual abuse charges involving 11 victims and was sentenced to seven years in jail. He was paroled in September 2009.
“They whipped him out of the country to Ireland,” Carter said. “They took him out of New Zealand after years of offending in different locations.” Society of Mary spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer told the AP that some families of Woodcock’s victims asked that he be sent offshore.
“He was sent to Ireland for intensive psychotherapy. He had no permission to exercise his ministry or to be involved with youth,” she said. Woodcock was suspended from his ministry in the New Zealand branch of the Society of Mary in 1987, according to Freer. He was removed from the priesthood in 2001, she said.
Freer noted that even 20 years ago, it was accepted belief that “pedophilia could be cured,” often with intensive psychotherapy. “Pedophilia is now seen as recidivist,” she said.
Woodcock is believed to be living in New Zealand’s North Island coastal city of Wanganui. A woman who gave her name as Catherine Woodcock and described herself as “a relative” said she didn’t think he would want to make any comment to the media. Asked why, she replied: “It is not appropriate at this stage.”
——— Back in Windsor, Vermont, Callander lives a quiet life with Sandi, his wife of 35 years. It was only last week that he told his siblings about the abuse.
Callander says he is coming forward now because the Xaverians failed to keep their promise that Pezzotti would not be around children. He wants the church to change by defrocking or isolating priests who admit abuse so they cannot work in the same positions again — anywhere in the world.
“All I want is for the church to do what is right for once,” Callander said. “To end the facade that a man like that should have the right to call himself a Catholic priest.”