A priest who has faced multiple accusations of child molestation was assigned to St. Catherine Parish in Morgan Hill shortly after he was convicted of sexual misconduct in 1983, according to a recently published list of area clergy accused of similar crimes dating back more than 60 years.
The offending priest, Hernan Toro, 90, is currently in jail on unrelated sexual misconduct charges stemming from a 2017 criminal investigation by San Jose Police, according to court records.
Toro is one of 15 priests on a list of area Catholic clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of children, released by the Diocese of San Jose Oct. 18. His 1983 felony conviction of sexual misconduct with a child occurred while he was a priest at Our Lady Star of The Sea Parish in Alviso.
After that criminal conviction, which required Toro to register as a sex offender, he continued to work within the Diocese until 1990. Among his assignments was St. Catherine Parish, located on Peak Avenue, where Toro was a priest from 1984 to 1986, according to the list released by the Diocese.
Diocese of San Jose spokeswoman Liz Sullivan said church officials are not aware of any accusations against Toro while he was assigned to the Morgan Hill parish. Local staff at St. Catherine referred questions back to the Diocese.
Toro is one of three priests on the list who was convicted in criminal court of accusations that he sexually abused children. He was permanently banned from the ministry in 1990. He retired April 1, 1990.
Now, Toro is back in jail awaiting trial on six felony charges of lewd and lascivious acts toward a child younger than 14, by use of force, violence, duress, menace or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person, according to Superior Court staff.
He was arrested by San Jose Police in October 2017 in relation to the recent charges, and has remained in jail since his arrest. He is in jail without bail, according to the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections website.
Toro is still listed as a sex offender on California’s Megan’s Law website. According to that site, he is registered for the 1983 conviction, but he is currently “in violation” of his sentencing requirements.
The Diocese’s list of accused priests says Toro’s current whereabouts are in San Leandro. The Megan’s Law site lists his last known address on Dewey Street in San Leandro.
San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath was not aware of the 2017 case against Toro when he released the list of accused priests Oct. 18, Sullivan said. McGrath “is saddened and infuriated that additional innocent children are the recent victims of horrific acts by Hernan Toro,” Sullivan said in an email.
Before 2002, Toro and other priests were often reassigned by the Diocese to different churches, rather than fired or banned from ministry when accused of abusing children. Sullivan said this practice was based on outdated “clinical psychological standards” at the time.
In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Dallas Charter, a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, according to the Diocese website.
“We now know, based on the current psychological best practices, that returning these men to ministry was a misguided attempt at rehabilitation and the Diocese has abolished this practice as part of Zero Tolerance established by the Dallas Charter of 2002,” Sullivan said.
The Dallas Charter—which has been revised in 2005, 2011 and 2018—includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse within the Catholic church, according to the Diocese of San Jose.
The Diocese of San Jose published the list of priests accused of child sexual abuse as part of its “commitment to transparency and accountability to assist in the process of reconciliation and healing,” reads an introduction to the list. Nine of the accused priests on the list are dead, and the rest are banned from the ministry.
In addition to his stint at St. Catherine, throughout his career Toro was also assigned to Our Lady of Peace Parish in Santa Clara (1978-79), Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish (1979-83), St. Athanasius Parish in Mountain View (1983-84), St. Aloysius Parish in Palo Alto (1986-88) and Detention Ministry (1988-90)
The local Diocese’s disclosure follows a worldwide, years-long scandal in which it has been revealed that hundreds of Catholic priests have been accused of molesting children. The San Jose Diocese is the first diocese in the Bay Area to name its priests who have faced such accusations.
The church said it considers an allegation credible if it involves a priest’s admission or an investigation by law enforcement or an independent oversight body.
McGrath said in a statement, released in three languages, that he has hired a former FBI investigator to review how church leaders have handled past abuse complaints.
“I express my deepest apologies for the actions of those who were in positions of authority and who violated that sacred trust by abusing children,” McGrath said. “The sexual abuse of children and young people is an appalling crime and a sin. When these perpetrators are members of the clergy, there are not only psychological, but spiritual wounds.”
Other surviving priests on the Oct. 18 list of those accused of sexual misconduct toward children are Don Flickinger, Phil Sunseri, Angel Mariano, Alexander Larkin and Robert Gray. Mariano and Gray were convicted of sexual crimes against children in 1998 and 1993, respectively.
One other priest on the list—Lionel Noia—was also reassigned to a different church within the Diocese after his criminal conviction of pedophilia in 1976, according to the Diocese of San Jose’s list. Noia died in 2005.
“There can no longer be a culture of secrecy in the church, but one of transparency and accountability,” McGrath said. “Our work will not be complete until all of those who have been harmed have received assistance in healing and until the evil of child sexual abuse has been eradicated from society.”
McGrath and the Diocese encourage anyone who has been abused by clergy to report the crimes to their local police department or sheriff’s office. Victims can also make a report to the Diocese’s Office for the Protection of Children by calling (408) 983-0113, or visiting opcva.ethicspoint.com. Victims’ identities will remain confidential.