2 more men accuse former priest and head of Hanna Boys Center of sexual abuse
Two men have filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office alleging they were sexually abused by the same priest when they were teens at Hanna Boys Center, an attorney for the men announced at a press conference on Wednesday.
One of the alleged victims, David Ortega, 33, told the Index-Tribune that he is coming forward with his allegations of abuse from 1999 to 2001, “because it ruined my whole life,” he said, and he doesn’t “want to see that happen to any other kids.”
“Being a victim, it’s not a shameful thing. Not speaking up, that’s where the shame is,” Ortega said.
Ortega was 14 years old when the alleged sexual abuse began by Father John Crews who was the executive director at the time at Hanna Boys Center. The abuse started six to eight months after Ortega arrived at the center and “after I told him things in confession,” he said.
“When something like that happens to you as a little kid, it shatters you, it shatters your mind,” Ortega said. “You’re already damaged going in to the place and now you’re damaged even further. It’s embarrassing.”
Ortega and the other victim, whose abuse is alleged to have taken place from 1984 to 1985 and is referred to in the complaint as John Doe, asked their attorney Joe George to put out a call to other victims to come forward and tell their story.
George – a Sacramento-based attorney who said he has represented “hundreds” of sexual assault victims – and David Clohessy, director of the Missouri chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), held a press conference on Wednesday outside the St. Francis Solano Catholic Church on West Napa Street. They said they wanted to “call attention to the fact that at this one church there were three credibly accused child molesting clerics here,” Clohessy said.
“We want anyone who saw or suspected or suffered child sex crimes or cover ups in this (Santa Rosa) diocese to come forward and get help and call the Attorney General’s office and protect others,” Clohessy said. “Whether it was at this parish by one of these three or other church employees or at (Hanna Boys Center) by Father Crews or other (center) employees.”
The three clerics to which Clohessy referred are priests Anthony Bolger, Francisco Javier Ochoa, and Daniel Polizzi, all of whom were at one time assigned to St. Francis. All three were accused of abuse, and all three are now deceased.
Clohessy and George highlighted Crews’s alleged abuses that took place at the Hanna Boys Center but have not been brought to light.
“The main reason we’re here today is the Hanna Boys Center and our fear that many were molested there and that their perpetrators are still shrouded in secrecy and that (the victims) are suffering in silence and shame and self-blame,” said Clohessy.
Ortega, who does not know John Doe, said he believes there were other victims of Crews and he gave the names of those boys to his attorney, but didn’t believe he should tell anyone else their names out of respect for the victims.
Ortega said he didn’t report Crews when the incidents happened out of fear of retribution, and only recently told his girlfriend about what happened to him at Hanna. She encouraged him to speak out.
Ortega, who grew up in Sonoma County, said he wants to do what he can to help prevent abuse from happening to others.
Bishop Robert F. Vasa of the Dioceses of Santa Rosa released a list in January of 39 accused priests and deacons who served in Santa Rosa.
The list included Crews but he was designated among those “whose names have become a part of a public record, mostly be way of public expressions in the media or on the internet.” Clohessy said that by framing the source of the accusations against Crews as the “media” or “internet,” he was minimizing the reverend’s crimes.
Prior to the allegations of abuse by John Doe and Ortega, the only accusation against Crews had been in 2013, when the widow of a victim said her late husband had told her of his abuse at the hands of Crews in the 1970s, before the reverend had come to Hanna Boys Center. Crews retired in 2013 in the wake of the allegation.
In an updated list of accused priests released in January, Vasa did not include Crews, explaining that the list “does not include any accusations directly associated with Hanna Center since that agency has its own HR, screening and reporting protocols.”
Clohessy accused Vasa of covering up the abuses of Crews during his time at Hanna Boys Center. In leaving the reporting of abuses to Hanna Boys Center officials, he said Vasa was looking the other way in regards to Crews.
“The common denominator here is Bishop Vasa’s hair-splitting and excuse making,” Clohessy said. “He’s doing what so many bishops do across the country which is to deceive the flock and minimize the horror by making these arbitrary distinctions…that’s baloney. The Boys Center is in this diocese and the bishop is the head of this diocese.”
Calls by the Index-Tribune to Vasa were not returned as of press time.
Hanna Boys Center sent out a statement on Wednesday saying, “Our practice, as is the law, is that any allegations are reported to law enforcement and our licensing body. We are saddened and appalled by the seriousness of these allegations, and are, as always, cooperating and assisting law enforcement and other authorities with any and all investigations. As we have not seen the formal complaint, we have no further information or comment to share at this time.”
The Catholic Hanna Boys Center, founded in 1945, is currently on probation after nearly having its license revoked by the state licensing commission in the wake of sex abuse allegations charged to its former clinical director Kevin Thorpe. Thorpe pleaded “no contest” to the charges and was sentenced to 21 years in August.
In a February “transparency update,” as part of the Santa Rosa diocese North Coast Catholic newsletter, Vasa revealed that a “new allegation” had been made against Crews, but provided no further detail.
The February transparency update listed 10 additional allegations. Of the seven priests on the February list all but two are dead. The living priests are Crews and Gary Timmons, who the Press Democrat learned is a defrocked priest and registered sex offender who had more than a dozen accusers and served four years in state prison. Vasa told the Press Democrat this week that in light of the two new accusers, he plans to confront Crews, who lives in North Carolina, and ask him to volunteer to seek clergy dismissal.
Those who believe they are victims of clergy abuse can file a report at ClergyAbuse@doj.ca.gov.
Email Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.