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Former Catholic priest accuses another of abusing him as a teen

April 20, 2009 |  3:37 pm

Lanowpriest A former Roman Catholic priest accused another former priest today of sexually abusing him in the rectory of a La Habra church when he was a teenager.

In a lawsuit filed in Santa Ana Superior Court, Ben Rodriguez, 45, said he was molested numerous times between the ages of 15 and 18 in the priest’s church apartment. On some occasions, the priest gave him muscle relaxants and sleeping pills before the abuse, Rodriguez alleged.

The lawsuit did not name the suspected priest, but Rodriguez identified him as Gordon J. Pillon in interviews and at a news conference today outside the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. At the news conference, Rodriguez handed out copies of a photograph of himself and Pillon, taken at the younger man’s confirmation nearly three decades ago.

Rodriguez alleges that Pillon, then an assistant pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra and Rodriguez’s spiritual advisor, took advantage of him while his parents were going through a divorce, eventually persuading him to sever his ties to his family and enter the seminary. Several years later, the two wound up working together at churches in Illinois, during which time Rodriguez served as an assistant pastor to Pillon.

Rodriguez served as a priest in the Diocese of Peoria for 16 years. In 2006, he decided to tell the diocese about the alleged abuse after another young man there told Rodriguez that Pillon had also made sexual advances toward him, Rodriguez said in an interview.

"Gordon wasn’t just a priest, he was like a cult figure," Rodriguez said. "He didn’t have a conscience."

Pillon, who was informed by a reporter about the lawsuit, denied any wrongdoing.

Pillon said he was removed from active ministry by the bishop in Peoria while Rodriguez’ allegations were investigated by Catholic officials. That investigation is ongoing, said Pillon, who is now a part-time college professor in Prague.

"He made an accusation against me at the Diocese of Peoria. That was sent to Rome. That case was not proven true," Pillon said. "It’s still in Rome. It just shocks me that he would take it to a civil court."

Rodriguez said that in response to his report on Pillon, the Illinois diocese gave him six days to leave his parish and the state. He said he was ordered to report to a treatment center in Pennsylvania to undergo therapy.

He said he asked if he could return after several months but was told he could not come back to Illinois. He soon moved back to California and left the priesthood. He is now working as a substitute teacher in Riverside County.

"When I gave the report, I knew this would be the end of my ministry," Rodriguez said. "I told friends, ‘I am denouncing a priest and I will probably have to leave the priesthood as a result.’ The priesthood is a fraternity. If you go against it, you are in trouble."

In the lawsuit, Rodriguez alleged that diocesan officials in Orange County had failed to "take reasonable steps to prevent sexual misconduct and molestation" in his case.

Officials in the dioceses of Orange and Peoria were not immediately available for comment.

-- Duke Helfand

Photo: Plaintiff Ben Rodriguez.  Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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