L.A. Unified was warned about ex-priest before hiring, church says
The Los Angeles Archdiocese said Monday that it had warned the L.A. Unified School District of concerns it had with a former priest accused of molestation before the school system hired him in 2002 as a community outreach coordinator.
The former priest, Joseph Pina, admitted in internal church documents to a sexual relationship with a minor and to repeated “boundary issues” with women throughout his career in the clergy.
The archdiocese apparently never alerted law enforcement authorities about Pina. But a spokesman on Monday said the church did indicate its concerns to L.A. Unified in its response to a district questionnaire before the school system hired Pina.
“The Archdiocese received an employment questionnaire from the LAUSD in August 2001 regarding Joseph Pina,” Tod M. Tamberg, director of media relations, said in a statement. “In response to the question: ‘Should the Los Angeles Unified School District consider anything else regarding this candidate’s employment suitability?’, the Archdiocese checked the box, ‘yes,’ adding that we would ‘not recommend him for a position in the schools.’ In response to the next question on the form, ‘Would you hire this person again?’, the Archdiocese checked the box 'no.' "
Tamberg added: “There is no indication in our files of any follow-up from LAUSD once the form was returned to the LAUSD.”
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy said the district is researching any past contact with the Archdiocese.
“There’s no form like that in his file whatsoever,” Deasy said. “Obviously, we’re looking into it.”
The schools chief, however, questioned why the church didn't do more to warn school officials about the molestation allegations against Pina.
Deasy said he wondered why someone at the church "didn't pick up the phone and make a call."
Deasy also has ordered a broader review of Pina’s file, including his hiring process.
Pina, 66, was laid off from his full-time district job last year, but returned to work episodically to organize events. One event he may have helped organize was a ribbon-cutting Saturday for a new education facility. School district officials over the weekend, however, could not confirm that. Pina did not attend the event, and the district could not confirm payment for any help he may have provided.
Pina's name emerged in documents released by the archdiocese to comply with a court order. His case was one of many in which church officials failed to take action to protect child victims and in which first consideration was given to helping the offending priests rather than their victims, according to the documentation.
A just-released, internal 1993 psychological evaluation states that Pina "remains a serious risk for acting out." The evaluation recounts how Pina was attracted to a victim, an eighth-grade girl, when he saw her in a costume.
"She dressed as Snow White. ... I had a crush on Snow White, so I started to open myself up to her," he told the psychologist. "I felt like I fell in love with her. I got sexually involved with her, but never intercourse. She was about 17 when we got involved sexually, and it continued until she was about 19."
In a report sent to a top aide to former L.A. Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, the psychologist expressed concern that the abuse was never reported to law enforcement authorities.
Pina's evaluation also includes a recommendation "to take appropriate measures and precautions to [ensure] that he is not in a setting where he can victimize others." Pina continued to work as a pastor as late as March 1998.
-- Howard Blume
Photo: An undated photo of Joseph Pina appears in the 1999 Catholic directory for the L.A. Archdiocese. Credit: L.A. Archdiocese