LAWTON, Okla. -- A priest who pleaded guilty to sexual battery charges in San Diego is the newest chaplain at a Catholic church in Lawton.
Fr. Jose Alexis Davila joined Blessed Sacrament in Lawton in December, despite a criminal misdemeanor for inappropriately touching a 19-year-old woman in 2011. The church introduced him to the congregation, but never mentioned his criminal past -- or even his last job, writing only that "he has pastoral experience in the United States."
"We’re very alarmed by this," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "This is precisely the pattern that’s been in the Catholic Church for decades and it’s amazingly irresponsible."
Following Davila's conviction in 2012, San Diego news outlets reported he was quietly reinstated and deemed "fit to minister." A judge sentenced him to three years probation and 150 hours of community service. He worked briefly at another parish before leaving the area.
He arrived in Oklahoma last year, and was officially assigned to three additional congregations in Elgin, Apache and Sterling.
For Clohessy, who has followed the case since it began, the new position is a disappointment.
"Yes he deserves a second chance but not in a position of trust and responsibility and authority and respect like a priest," he told NewsChannel 4. "And certainly not with no warnings to families around him. If a clergyman or woman abuses his authority and takes sexual advantage of a teenager we really think it should be exactly what the bishops promised it would be and that’s 'one strike and you’re out.'"
Parishioners told NewsChannel 4 they had no idea about Davila's past, though some very strongly supported him, even accusing the victims of fabricating stories.
Fr. Michael Chapman said his congregation was not informed, though some found out on their own. He said the congregation will be informed this weekend.
"You don’t condemn a person for a maybe one-time offense," said Chapman, adding he believes Davila when he tells him the contact was inadvertent. "We don’t have a congregation of saints, we have a congregation of sinners, including the lead sinner who is the priest."
Chapman says he believes Davila pleaded guilty to minimize embarrassment to himself and the church.
The leader of the Oklahoma City archdiocese stood by his decision to employ Davila.
Archbishop Paul Coakley released the following statement to NewsChannel 4:
“It is important that we operate in an open environment where people in our parishes and institutions feel safe and welcome to practice their faith. While Father Davila’s actions with an adult parishioner five years ago occurred in the presence of others at his office in California, he understands that those actions were perceived as inappropriate. He accepted the consequences of his lapse in judgment.
Without excusing or justifying his behavior, I think he can now safely and appropriately return to ministry. Some actions such as the sexual abuse of a child are so grievous that the perpetrator must be permanently removed from ministry. This was not one of those actions.
Before allowing him to serve in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, my staff conducted a full investigation, including a criminal background check, probationary period and lengthy interviews with leaders from dioceses in which Father Davila has served. Father Davila has been open and forthcoming about his experience. He is committed to the strict code of ethical conduct expected in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and he understands – as do all of our priests, staff, teachers, employees and volunteers – that they are required to follow the policies and procedures in place to create a safe environment – no exceptions.”
But some members of the congregation are considering switching parishes after the news.
"I have niece and nephews and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with this person working with any children," said Janet Bullard. "It’s hurtful this kind of stuff. It puts a stain on the church. Most of these people are good decent people and these scandals really hurt a lot of people and really ran a lot of people out of the church."