South Bay priest says back massage he gave high school boys was not sexual

SAN JOSE (BCN) The Catholic Diocese of San Jose this morning released a list of 15 priests, most of whom have died or been banned from the ministry, who they say were "credibly accused" of sexually abusing children. 

The list does not go into detail about the nature of the crimes reported, which date back to 1961 in some cases, but it does list all known locations where that priest worked during his career with the Catholic Church.

It also contains the years in which crimes by specific priests were first reported, some of which were as late as 2006, and when that priest either died, was banned from ministry or placed on "restricted ministry," which means they were reassigned to administrative duties and only allowed to participate in mass with permission from the bishop and under supervision.

Five of the priests are still alive, and the list includes information of their current whereabouts.

Rev. Don Flickinger, who was first reported in 2002 and permanently banned from the ministry in 2006, is said to be in the vicinity of the Diocese of Fresno.

Robert Gray, who was reported and convicted in 1993, then permanently banned in 2002, is said to be in the Sunnyvale area.

Alexander Larkin, who was first reported in 2003 and permanently banned in 2009, is said to still reside in the San Jose area, as is Phil Sunseri, who was first reported in 1987 and permanently banned in 1988. 

Sunseri was accused of sexual misconduct with children in San Jose at St. Christopher Parish in 1986 and at Holy Family Parish in 1987. He said he apologized after giving two high school boys a back massage which he says was not sexual.

"I was never sat down and talked to by superiors (or) reprimanded in anyway and I left ministry. It was of my own volition. So as I said, this was quite a surprise after 30 years," said Sunseri.

Sunseri was never charged or convicted.

Hernan Toro, who was reported, convicted and forced to register as a sex offender in 1983, is said to currently reside in the San Leandro area.

The list, which only includes priests if the accusations against them were "determined to be credible" may be incomplete, however. That term only covers those who admitted to the offense, were convicted in criminal court, or deemed as such by the Independent Diocesan Review Board (or) 
Sensitive Incident Team.

The diocese says that additional names may be added to their list once the priest in question meets the criteria noted above.

Joey Piscitelli, Northern California leader for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, provided a list of six priests whose names do not appear on the diocese's list. He also suspects there may be additional priests who have yet to be named and may still be working in ministry.

"It sounds way short," Piscitelli said. "I'm sure there's a lot more."

"The dioceses never give a complete list," he added.

Piscitelli argued that the diocese may be offering up an abbreviated list of accused priests in an attempt to "beat the government investigators to the punch" if they launch a major criminal investigation. 

He's also argued that this effort at transparency may be an effort to stem the loss of parishioners who may leave the church as a result of recent headlines.  

"I'm sorry it took the diocese of San Jose 16 years to release these names. At least they're out there now," said Melanie Sakoda, another SNAP leader. 

Bishop Patrick McGrath released the statement, "I express my deepest apologies for the actions of those who were in positions of authority and who violated that sacred trust by abusing children. The sexual abuse of children and young people is an appalling crime and a sin. When these perpetrators are members of the clergy, there are not only psychological wounds but spiritual wounds. In the Diocese of San Jose, we have worked diligently to create a safe environment in which to worship, learn, and gather in our parishes, schools and other institutions. Every bishop, priest, deacon, employee, and volunteer, who have contact with children in any capacity, must undergo a background check and triennial training on how to prevent, recognize and report the sexual abuse of children. It is my commitment to build on the efforts of the past and continue to improve upon them."

Catholic Church Scandal: San Jose Diocese names priests accused of abuse by Michelle on Scribd

In a previous KTVU report  citing the need for reform and transparency, the Diocese of San Jose had announced steps they were taking to address clergy abuse. Among them, was the plan to release the names of priests who have been accused.

Bishop McGrath said he hoped the step will help victims heal and perhaps give others the strength to come forward.

KTVU's Maureen Naylor contributed to this report. 

Watch our previous coverage here. 

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