Note: Costa Mesa is a 5 minute drive from my house. This is too close for comfort!

Costa Mesa priest accused of sex abuse
The Rev. Jerome Henson is on leave during investigation of 1981 case.

The Diocese of Orange has placed a Costa Mesa priest on paid leave while it investigates a 21-year-old allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, church officials said Tuesday.

The Rev. Jerome Henson, who was temporarily removed in late November, is the fourth priest targeted by the Diocese of Orange amid a widening sex-abuse scandal that has gripped the Roman Catholic Church. Henson, through his attorney, adamantly denied the allegation.

The sexual abuse is alleged to have occurred in 1981 at a cemetery in Northern California. A police officer saw a boy he recognized suspended on a fence with his legs over the priest's shoulders, according to a police report.

The priest spotted the police car and threw the boy's legs from his shoulders, causing the boy to fall. The officer wrote up a report but did not stop the incident, according to the police report.

Five days later, Henson moved to a parish in Reno, according to the report. He moved on to Utah, then to Orange County in 1983.

The Diocese of Orange in December announced Henson's status to his most recent parishes - St. John the Baptist Parish in Costa Mesa, St. Angela Merici Church in Brea and St. Anthony Claret Church in Anaheim.

No other allegations have surfaced, said Maria Schinderle, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Orange. The diocese also did not know of prior allegations before allowing Henson to work in Orange County, Schinderle said.

His whereabouts are not being disclosed.

Leticia Hernandez, 38, of Newport Beach is a parishioner at St. John the Baptist. Henson baptized her children and helped them achieve their first Communion. Her son worked as an altar boy.

"This is bad for people who believe in God," Hernandez said. "How can I encourage my children to get involved at church when they are reading all of these stories in the newspaper? To me, he seems like a good person."

The alleged victim in the Henson case, now 33, is in prison on residential-burglary charges, said his attorney, Larry Drivon. He served time for manslaughter after a traffic accident.

"The psychologist who looked at him for the prison system concluded that his flight to drugs is connected to the abuse by the priest, which is a story that is far from unique," Drivon said. Police officials contacted the boy's family about the incident at the time, but the boy denied anything untoward happened. Police also contacted the church, and church officials said they suspected Henson may have been too involved with young boys at the parish.

Gary Moorhead, Henson's attorney, questioned why the officer did not stop the incident if he witnessed it.

Benicia Police Department spokesman Mike Daley said the officer's behavior was not unusual for the time.

"You have to remember, you're going back 20 years," Daley said. "In today's environment, a little more initial contact would probably have occurred. Back then it was kind of like, 'Oh, my goodness. What's going on? Let me figure out, as an officer, how to handle this situation.'

"The officer did write his report and a detective went out and followed up."

[ April 18, 2002: Message edited by: Tinfoil ]

[ April 21, 2002: Message edited by: nomsv ]