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Fears about sexual abuse persist

by Laura Ernde of  The Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND -- Neighbors of a Catholic seminary that is housing seven suspected child molesters say their meeting with church leaders Tuesday night did nothing to assuage their concerns.

"I would say they made matters worse, trying to soft-soap things. This has become like a cesspool," neighbor Jerry Ratch said after leaving the closed-door meeting at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland's upscale Rockridge neighborhood.

Ratch and more than 30 other invited guests -- including neighbors and parents of students at two local schools -- spent nearly three hours meeting with leaders of the Western Dominican Province, the Catholic

order that runs the seminary. Province spokeswoman Carla Hass said she was disappointed the church wasn't able to persuade more people sufficient precautions are being taken to ensure that the men don't pose a threat.

"Neighbors, they didn't hold anything back. It was a good, but hard, meeting," she said.

The seminary scheduled the meeting in response to recent media reports that for the last two to 10 years, St. Albert's has been housing seven men accused of child sexual abuse. None of the men has ever been charged with a crime.

Although the meeting was meant to allay neighbors' fears, some said they didn't get enough information from the church to make them feel at ease. The church refused to identify the men or details of their alleged offenses.

"I felt like it was a lot of evasiveness, not answering questions directly," said longtime resident Ellen Koch.

Koch said she used to consider the sanctuary a safe place for her 12-year-old daughter to play. But not any more.

Neighbor Jeff Foreman said he believes neighbors' fears are probably overblown, but the church did not provide enough information about the alleged offenses for people to come to that conclusion.

"It's very difficult to trust what they're saying. I don't think they're winning any converts here," he said.

Zach Unger said he went into the meeting expecting to be reassured. But then he learned the men are allowed to use the Internet unsupervised and that one of the alleged offenders sneaked away on an unsupervised trip to Bangkok.

A few people, including Jennifer Ettinger, a mother of two young children, defended the church.

"They're doing a good job. More is being made of this than it needs to," she said.

Also, the principal of Chabot Elementary, just a few blocks from St. Albert's, said she doesn't believe the arrangement compromises the safety of the school's 480 students.

"We are a community, and we have to work together," said Denise Saddler, who talked privately with the priory before the meeting. "We have to teach our children to be a part of our society."

Councilmember Jane Brunner said neighbors might be reassured if they got the same information as Saddler. She said she will urge the Rev. Roberto Corral, head of the seminary, to make that information public.

Two members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP, handed leaflets to residents as they went into the meeting. The handout urged them to ask tough questions about the men and how they're being supervised.


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