LOS ANGELES (AP) — A high-ranking Roman Catholic official has been exonerated of clergy sex abuse allegations by a Vatican tribunal after a decade of investigation and is once more considered a priest in good standing with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, church officials said Monday.
The decision to reinstate Msgr. Richard Loomis is rare — particularly after so many years — and the move drew immediate condemnation from an attorney for the alleged victim and church critics who say the tribunal never reached out to the accusers of Loomis after they gave an initial account and didn’t inform them of the decision.
Loomis, 68, has been on inactive leave and living outside the church since allegations surfaced in 2003 that he molested a boy between 1968 and 1971 at a Catholic high school where he taught.
Another boy told his parents in 1974 that he had been molested by Loomis, and the family reported it to a parish priest, according to church documents.
Loomis has denied any wrongdoing and was never criminally charged. The archdiocese settled one civil claim against him in 2007 as part of a record-breaking, $660 million deal with hundreds of people who accused priests of abuse.
Loomis has not been given a parish assignment but is once more able to perform sacraments, such as baptisms and confirmations, and taking confessions, said Monica Valencia, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles archdiocese.
Loomis’ canon law attorney, Charles Renati, did not return a call for comment or respond to a request to speak with Loomis directly.
“After 10 years of exhaustive investigation and canonical trial, a Tribunal of the Holy See has definitively determined and ruled that no allegations of sexual misconduct of any kind alleged against Monsignor Richard Loomis have been proven,” the archdiocese statement said.
About 7 to 10 percent of priests accused of sex abuse are cleared by canon law proceedings, said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon law expert and law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
In those proceedings, which are internal, the church assigns the equivalent of a prosecutor to advocate for an alleged victim’s interests, and the accused has a canon lawyer as well.
A case can be heard locally and then be appealed to the Vatican by either side, or it can be heard from the beginning by the Vatican tribunal.
It wasn’t clear from the archdiocese statement how Loomis’ case unfolded and the archdiocese did not respond to emailed questions.
The exoneration angered civil attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents the alleged victim and sued in 2003 over abuse he said happened between 1968 and 1971 at Pater Noster High School in Los Angeles, where Loomis was a teacher.
At the time, Loomis was a religious brother and had not taken his final priestly vows.
The plaintiff, who has remained anonymous, gave a statement to church investigators a decade ago when he first filed the lawsuit and never heard anything more, De Marco said.
He said his client was credible and would have assisted further but was never contacted.
“That’s such an interesting thing that one can determine that an individual is innocent of sexually molesting these children when at least one of them has provided a statement and then was never asked again,” he said. “Was there a trial? Was he asked to come in and testify? It’s an absolute whitewash.”
During his priestly career, Loomis served as vicar for clergy for Cardinal Roger Mahony and in that job oversaw personnel decisions for the hundreds of priests within the nation’s largest archdiocese.
He dealt extensively with now-defrocked priest Michael Baker, who was placed back into ministry after acknowledging to Mahony that he had molested children. Once back in ministry, Baker molested more children and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to state prison on sex abuse charges.
In 2001, when Loomis retired as vicar for clergy, he noted his dismay at how the Baker case had been handled.
In a memo to his successor, Loomis said Baker’s attorney disclosed the priest had at least 10 other victims and said the archdiocese was “being driven by the need to cover-up … rather than the need to protect children.”