Suspended priest Jack Spaulding twice harbored at a Mesa church another priest who was accused of sexual misconduct and inciting violence at a mission for the poor in Mexico, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix confirmed to the Tribune this week.
The diocese said Spaulding had allowed the Rev. Loren Riebe to stay at the St. Timothy’s Catholic Community rectory in June 2009 and May of this year — even after the diocese warned him not to take in the priest who garnered national attention in 1995 when he was deported from Mexico amidst allegations that he had molested teenage boys.
Spaulding could not be reached for comment this week, but his attorney, Don Wilkinson, said, “I’m sure if he (Spaulding) would’ve been warned (not to take in Riebe), he wouldn’t have done it. Frankly, it sounds a little hard to believe he would’ve done it after he was told not to.”
It wouldn’t be the first time, though, that Spaulding has been accused of giving shelter to a suspended priest facing allegations of sexual abuse. In 1993 while pastor of Scottsdale’s St. Maria Goretti Church, Spaulding took in the Rev. Michael Harris of California, according to the Diocese of Orange in California.
Spaulding, 67, resigned as pastor of St. Tim’s on June 20, four days before he was placed on administrative leave by the Phoenix diocese after being accused himself of sexually abusing a teenage boy more than 25 years ago.
The diocese will refer Spaulding’s case to the Holy See this month, according to Rob DeFrancesco, a spokesman for the Phoenix diocese. The Holy See is a governmental board for the Vatican in Rome that will ultimately decide whether Spaulding will be removed from the priesthood in the months ahead.
In the meantime, Spaulding has been banned from being on the property of St. Tim’s and from attending Mass pending the outcome of the investigation.
Riebe’s whereabouts are unknown. His problems in Mexico during his mission work under the San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, were not the first time he was accused of misconduct. Riebe was also accused of sexual misconduct with teenage boys in California during the 1970s, as well as issues involving alcohol and substance abuse amid allegations that he had inappropriate sexual conduct with women, according to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
In October 2008, Riebe was among 14 clergy members accused of wrongdoing while working within the Los Angeles archdiocese. He was classified as an extern, meaning that although he was working with the archdiocese, he was under the jurisdiction of another diocese, according to the Los Angeles archdiocese.
About that time, officials at the Los Angeles archdiocese informed the Phoenix diocese that they suspected Riebe was living at St. Tim’s in Mesa. Riebe had frequently visited Arizona, and often made presentations at Valley churches in an effort to raise money for his mission.
That information caused the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to send out a national alert in a community notification statement about Riebe at the request of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The notification said: “The Diocese of Phoenix has a record of Fr. Riebe receiving faculties to administer sacraments in the Diocese in July of 1996 when he was staying at St. Maria Goretti Parish, Scottsdale. His faculties expired in October of 1997 when he left the Diocese. Since 1997, he has returned to Arizona to operate a foundation known as Mission Teaching Foundation, and he has presented mission appeals at various parishes including St. Maria Goretti, Scottsdale; St. Thomas the Apostle, Phoenix; St. Gabriel, Cave Creek; St. Timothy, Mesa; St. Helen, Glendale; and Holy Cross, Mesa.”
Spaulding served at four of those churches: St. Maria Goretti, St. Thomas, St. Helen and St. Timothy.
The notification also said, “The USCCB has advised all bishops of the country that Fr. Loren Riebe, an excardinated priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is currently incardinated in the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. The concern is that Fr. Riebe may have continuing contacts throughout the country in connection with fundraising activities for projects in Mexico and Guatemala. If you become aware of Fr. Riebe or his activities please notify the Chancellor.”
In statements to the Tribune this week, the Phoenix diocese said it became aware that Riebe had stayed at St. Tim’s for some time prior to May of 2008 and had even assisted at some Masses during that time.
That’s when Spaulding was first warned by Phoenix diocese officials that Riebe could not live at the rectory. But the diocese stated that Riebe did return in June of 2009 and again in May of 2011 for brief periods of time.
“On both occasions, Diocesan officials contacted Fr. Spaulding to remind him that Fr. Riebe was not permitted in the rectory or on the parish campus and demanded that he be asked to leave,” the Phoenix diocese said in a statement. “On both occasions, Fr. Riebe immediately left.”
The diocese does not believe Riebe was involved in any Masses or sacraments at St. Tim’s in 2009 or 2011.
But his return on both occasions triggered a stream of phone calls and complaints to the diocese from irate St. Tim’s parishioners reporting that Riebe was back, according to Jean Sokol, former director for the Office of Child and Youth Protection.
Sokol, who worked for the Phoenix diocese during the time Riebe was seen at the St. Tim’s rectory, said she left the diocese a little more than a year ago to enter private practice for social work and counseling in a personal career choice, according to her and the diocese.
She also said she attended a heated town hall meeting at St. Tim’s in June when the suspension of Spaulding was announced and an attorney for the Phoenix diocese read a timeline of the allegations leading up to Spaulding’s suspension.
“I asked for a copy of the timeline of the accusations, but they wouldn’t give it to me because they said I no longer was an employee of the diocese,” Sokol said. “I wish I would’ve taken a tape recorder to that meeting.”
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