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Disgraced Priest Accused Of Molesting Parishioners Found A Job At LAUSD

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Priest collar (Photo by AISPIX by Image Source via Shutterstock)
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A former Catholic priest who was repeatedly accused of molesting children over the course of his 26 years in the priesthood went on to work for Los Angeles Unified School District. The connection between the Father Joseph Piña who resigned from the priesthood under the cloud of suspicion in 1998 and the Joseph Piña who until this week worked as a community organizer on behalf of LAUSD was made public with the church records released this week under court order. LAUSD's personnel department confirmed the connection for KCET, which has copies of the relevant documents on its site.

The records show that as early as 2009, the Church knew that Piña was working for LAUSD doing community outreach, but it's not clear if church leaders passed on this information to the school district.

LAUSD superintendent John Deasy told the Los Angeles Times that Piña would no longer be employed by the district. The district was investigating whether it knew anything about Piña's record of sexually abusing minors when he was hired. Deasy told the Times: "I find it troubling. And I also want to understand what knowledge that we had of any background problems when hiring him, and I don’t yet know that.”

The timeline of when he started working for the district is hazy, but KCET reports that he was there as early as February 2002. His job did not include working with children in the classroom, but his job was organizing community outreach events. Just this week Piña was at the opening for a new occupational center in Bell.

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Piña admitted in 1990 that he had sexually abused a teenage girl at St. Alphonsus Parish. The abuse detailed in the letter began when she was 16 and lasted for 2 and a half years. He said that he did not have sexual intercourse with her but admitted to "heavy petting" and performing oral sex on her. When she went off to college, she sought help from a counselor and ended up confronting him and telling her family.

The church files on Piña begin in May 1990 with a note to then-Archbishop Roger Mahony from his adviser on sexual abuse issues Monsignor Thomas Curry. Both were publicly rebuked by current Archbishop Jose Gomez this week. Initially, Curry seems to treat what was going on between Piña and his victim almost as if it were a quarrel between exes—not a criminal matter. After speaking with Piña, Curry writes about their "break-up" and is very sympathetic to Piña: "He said she was brutal with him, and I had the impression he was hurt [...] He also said he had tried to help her self-image and to build up her confidence."

Mahony ends up writing a comforting letter to Piña about a week later, and there are documents showing that Piña entered treatment a few months later. In 1993—more than three years after Curry's note—the victim's brother writes a note to Mahony asking why Piña has not suffered consequences for his actions and why the church has not reached out more to help his struggling victim. He writes that his sister's molestation has shaken his entire family and their faith.

This letter prompts the Church to ask Piña to undergo a psychological evaluation. The evaluation says Piña is manipulative and a predator, "Over the years he's perfected his method, and his behavior suggests that single Hispanic female mothers and possibly minors are at risk for becoming victimized."

The evaluation cautions that Piña hasn't taken full responsibility for his actions and that he actually considers himself a victim in the relationship. The evaluator writes, "I would advise the Archdiocese to take appropriate measures and precautions to insure that he is not in a setting where he can victimize others."

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Piña went to a residential treatment facility for 6 months and he was ordered not to spend unsupervised time with minors, but he eventually went on to other parishes where accusations cropped up again. He was accused of saying inappropriate things to minors and touching them inappropriately. At a parish in Ventura in 1998, one family complained that his relationship with their daughters—one in particular—was inappropriate. They tell Church officials that Piña gave one books with graphic sex scenes, promised to take her on trip to San Francisco when she was older and told her that her mother was a "fox." Once he took their daughters on long trips to go shopping. It's not clear exactly what went on, but the victim's parents said "the situation" with Father Piña had changed her and made her angry and combative.

Piña resigned in 1998, but he was not formally "laicized" until 2006. There is only one mention in Piña's files that any of his sexual abuse was reported to authorities. A document that appears to be from 2009 mentions that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was investigating claims that Piña sexually abused a 14-year-old girl at a parish in the 1970's, but there's little information about when that was reported in the documents.

Related:
Disgraced Former Catholic Priest Involved in Sexual Misconduct Went to Work at LAUSD
Priest accused of molestation moved to L.A. school district job
Cardinal Mahony Fires Back At Archbishop Who Rebuked Him Over Pedophile Cover-Up
L.A. Cardinal Mahony Relieved Of Public Duties After Shielding Pedophile Priests