Salinas Police, Accused Priest Too Close for Comfort
March 9, 2011
Attorneys representing the victim of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest have asked the Salinas Police Department to recuse itself from the case, citing an entrenched relationship between law enforcement and the alleged perpetrator.
“We believe the Salinas PD has an unavoidable conflict in this case,” lawyers John Manly and Vince Finaldi wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to Salinas Police Chief Louis Fetherolf and Deputy Chief Cassie McSorley.
Salinas police would not acknowledge receipt of the letter or comment on it. “We’ve even investigated our own employees, so I don’t know what the conflict of interest would be,” says police spokesman Lalo Villegas.
The priest, Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry, has served as a chaplain or unofficial, quasi-chaplain for Salinas police, Finaldi says. He also served as a San Benito County sheriff’s chaplain for 15 years until he resigned from that role last month.
Were the investigation to fall under the San Benito sheriff’s jurisdiction, the department would hand it over to another agency. “We would probably not investigate [Fitz-Henry], so there’s no perception of impropriety,” says Sgt. Scott Becker.
Before the Diocese of Monterey suspended Fitz-Henry last late month, he had been a priest at Mission San Juan Bautista since 1996, with the exception of a two-year stint at Madonna del Sasso in Salinas between 2005 and 2007. The alleged abuse took place at Madonna.
The Diocese launched an investigation into the allegations in January, headed by Don Cline, a recently retired Salinas police sergeant. To date, the church board that reviews Cline’s findings has not determined the allegations to be credible, but the Diocese says it found credible allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor against Fitz-Henry from 20 years ago.
Finaldi says the Diocese’s inquiry is contaminating witness testimony and undermining the Salinas PD detectives’ ability to conduct a fair criminal investigation. Villegas, whose wedding Fitz-Henry officiated, agrees. “If we were the only ones to know about this, it’s better for our investigation,” he says. “Why was the Diocese approached first? In circumstances like these, the police department would be the first one notified.”