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Retired San Bernardino priest accused of molesting five boys in 1970s

September 16, 2011 |  1:01 pm

A retired San Bernardino priest is facing accusations that he sexually abused at least five boys during his 24 years at St. Aquinas Catholic High School and has been stripped of his ministerial rights.

The Diocese of San Bernardino, in emails and letters sent this week to the school's alumni, revealed that Father Robert J. Donat, who now lives in retirement in L.A. County, was being accused by an alleged victim of that sexual abuse. Church officials deemed the accusation "credible." 

The diocese asked all former students who might have information to contact church or police officials. The alleged abuse mentioned in the emails and letters occurred on an out-of-state trip.

Donat, reached at his Torrance home, declined to comment.

Rebecca Rhoades, an attorney for one of the alleged victims abused in 1973, said she "spoke to five victims who were aged between 15 and 17 at the time of the abuse." Rhoades said those men also provided the names of other potential victims.

"He was at the school a long time," she said. "I would expect other victims will come forward."

The abuse allegedly occurred on road trips with the priest, as well as inside the rectory and in his car. "He would groom the boys, calling them his special friend," she said.

John Andrews, a spokesman for the diocese, said church officials were aware of only one alleged victim who was a student at the school in 1973. 

Donat was stripped of all priestly duties about a month and half ago after the diocese learned of the allegations.

According to the diocese, Donat served as pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Montclair from 1993 until

his retirement in 2006. He previously lived at the former St. Anne's parish, now Our Lady of Hope, and St. Bernardine's parish, both in San Bernardino.

Church statements on the allegations against Donat were read at all Masses this week. Parishioners were asked to report any suspected abuse by Donat or any church officials to (888) 206-9090 or the local police agency. 

While not in regular ministry during the last five years, Donat may have visited parishes and medical facilities in the area.

Donat, however, based on the known cases, is unlikely to face charges because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that older molestation cases -- those before 1988 -- cannot be pursued because they are beyond the statute of limitations.   

Donat was ordained in 1966 and served in the Diocese of San Diego for three years before coming to San Bernardino. 

Joelle Casteix, a spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called on diocesan officials to make public everything they know about Donat.

"It takes an extreme amount of bravery for a victim to come forward and report abuse by a trusted priest and high school teacher," Casteix said. "We hope that if there are any more victims -- of Donat or any other priest in the Diocese of San Bernardino or the Archdiocese of Los Angeles -- that they come forward and seek help from law enforcement and self-help groups like ours, not church officials."

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-- Richard Winton

 

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