Utah’s Catholic diocese releases names of 19 clergymen accused of sexually abusing minors, says one priest with recent allegations will retire

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The choir sings during Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.

In its most detailed account to date, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City released the names Monday of every priest in Utah who has faced “credible allegations” of sexual misconduct with minors since 1950.

The diocese, which oversees Utah’s 300,000-plus Catholics, also announced the retirement of one priest who had been on leave after allegations surfaced earlier this year.

The diocese received three complaints this year about the Rev. David R. Gaeta, who was serving as pastor at St. Peter Parish in American Fork.

A report from June accused Gaeta of being in bed with a minor in 1982, according to the diocese. Another report was received in August that the priest had offered alcohol to four minors in 1982 and suggested they undress. A third report came in July alleging Gaeta touched a child’s buttocks while pushing a swing sometime this year.

The Division of Child and Family Services investigated this most recent allegation, according to the diocese, but no criminal charges were filed.

The diocese announced Gaeta will retire Jan. 1 “without faculties,” meaning he cannot engage in public ministry, present himself as a priest in good standing or perform church ceremonies.

He is one of 19 Catholic leaders in Utah identified Monday against whom “credible allegations of sexual abuse involving minors” has been received.

“The list of credible allegations is one step toward providing the transparency that will help repair at least some of the wounds left by the wrongful actions of priests who have abused their sacred trust,” Bishop Oscar A. Solis said in a statement. “We continue to pray for the victims and their families and ask their forgiveness for our failure to protect them.”

The other priests and church leaders publicly identified by the diocese Monday:

  • Mario Arbelaez-Olarte was arrested in 2003 for soliciting a minor — who was actually an undercover police officer — online. The priest was laicized, or stripped of his clerical status, in 2006.

  • Joseph M. Baraniewicz was accused of holding children on his lap, as well as kissing and hugging children in October 1990. It was reported to the diocese that year but was not reported to law enforcement until 2003. Baraniewicz at some point was sent to alcohol treatment and returned as a priest. He died in 2012.

  • William Cody Bressler was a visiting priest accused of putting his hand on a child’s legs between 1955 and 1956. It was reported to a diocese in Virginia and to police in 2004. His faculties were removed, and he is now deceased.

  • George Davich was accused of sleeping in bed with a minor between 1979 and 1985. It was reported to the diocese and police in 2002. He retired without faculties that year, and the Vatican ordered him to spend his life in prayer and penance. 

  • Raymond Devlin is accused of molesting a teenager in 1989. The allegation was reported to the diocese the following year, but state authorities were not made aware of the report until 2002. His faculties were removed in 1990, and he died in 2011.

  • Paul Franco was accused of sexually abusing a minor between 1976 and 1979. The allegation did not surface until 2002. He left the ministry in 1986, before the allegation become public.

  • Francisco Gomez was a visiting priest accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1994. The diocese and police were made aware of the allegation in 2002. He retired and his faculties were removed that year.

  • James M. Greenwell was accused of molesting and taking photos of a naked minor in 1980. The allegation surfaced in 2002. He left the priesthood in 1986.

  • Edward J. Konat was accused of sexually abusing two minors in 1984. Diocese and police were made aware of one allegations in 2002 and a second in 2010. His faculties were removed and he left Utah in 1985.

  • Charles LaPenta was accused of kissing a minor at some time between 1972 and 1976. The allegation became known to the diocese and police in 2006. LaPenta was suffering from dementia at the time of the report, and he died in a nursing facility in 2009.

  • Leonidas Lopez was accused of sexually assaulting three children in the 1980s. The allegations were reported to the diocese and police in 2002 and in 2008. He was laicized in 2014.

  • Thomas O’Neill was accused of soliciting a teenager for sexual activity between 1963 and 1967. The allegation became known in 2002. He is now deceased.

  • James Rapp sexually abused four minors in Utah between 1969 and 1975 and is now imprisoned for sexual abuse of minors outside of Utah. The diocese learned of the allegations between 2000 and 2002. Law enforcement was notified in 2002 and 2003. Rapp was laicized, and he is currently in an Oklahoma prison.

  • Reyes Rodriguez is accused in three cases of abuse, though the diocese offered little other detail. Reports of abuse were made to the diocese in 1987, 2004 and 2007. The 1987 allegation was not forwarded to authorities until 2002. His faculties were removed in 2002, and he has been ordered to spend his life in prayer and penance.

  • Glen M. Shrope was accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1976. The diocese and police learned of the allegation in 2003. His faculties were removed in 1983, and he is now deceased.

  • Lawrence Spellen was accused of sexually abusing three minors between 1958 and 1969 and in the 1980s. The reports were made to the diocese in 1992, 2002 and 2012. Law enforcement authorities were not told about the allegations until 2002 and again in 2012. Spellen’s faculties were removed in 1993. He died in 2003.

  • Leonardo E. Ariza was a seminarian accused of sexually abusing a minor in 2002. The seminary and authorities were informed of the abuse that year, and he was terminated.

  • Neil McMenamin was a brother accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1962. The diocese and police were told of the allegation in 2007. He died in 2015. He worked as a housekeeper at Judge Memorial Catholic High School.

To be considered a credible allegation, the diocese needs “sufficient evidence” to verify the allegation could have occurred, such as that the accused and the accuser were in the same area around the time of the alleged misconduct. The diocese said a credible allegation in “not a final determination of guilt, but is grounds for further exploration.”

Zach Hiner, executive director of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told FOX 13 on Monday that releasing the names of priests accused of abuse is “the right thing to do.”

“It’s a critical step for the healing of survivors,” he said.

But Hiner told the television station that he takes issue with the diocese being the one to publish the list and worries some names are being left off either intentionally or inadvertently.

He wants the Utah attorney general’s office to investigate, but officials there told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday that they have no plans to look into the diocese.

“We always let local law enforcement investigate these claims,” spokeswoman Cindy Reinhard said earlier this month.

Dozens of Catholic bishops around the country have recently started releasing names of those priests credibly accused of abuse as the nation has been rocked by reports of sex abuse by Catholic leaders. Several attorneys general throughout the nation have opted to launch investigations into area dioceses.

In a September letter to Utah’s Catholics, Solis revealed that the Salt Lake City diocese had received credible allegations involving 16 priests. It was likely the first time Utah Catholics have received this type of accounting of sex abuse allegations against priests.

The information released Monday marks the first time the diocese has publicly identified every priest credibly accused of abuse, along with a description of the alleged misconduct.

Days before Catholic bishops met in 2002 to tackle a policy on clergy sex abuse, then-Utah Bishop George H. Niederauer, who died in 2017, announced three priests in Utah would leave their assignments after allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors surfaced.

According to the information released Monday, the diocese received 10 allegations of clergy sex abuse that year alone — five before Niederauer’s announcement and five after.

Two years later, in 2004, Niederauer said in a statement that, from 1950 until 2002, there were 18 credible allegations of sexual abuse against 13 priests in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. That represented 2.7 percent of the 476 priests who served the diocese during those years, said Niederauer.

Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.