Additional reporting by Karen Foshay, Lata Pandya, and Miguel Contreras.
[Update - Monday, February 4, 1:41 p.m.: L.A. Archdiocese Says It Warned LAUSD Not To Hire Former Priest]
Joseph D. Pina was a Catholic priest for 26 years in Southern California until he left the church after repeated admissions of a sexual relationship with a minor. "Socal Connected" has learned Pina later went to work at Los Angeles Unified School District.
According to recently released church documents, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was aware as early as 2009 that Pina was working for LAUSD, despite his extensive record of sexual misconduct as a Catholic Priest. It's unclear if church leaders informed the district of Pina's past.
Pina, whose last assignment was at St. Emydius Church in Lynwood, Calif., resigned from the priesthood in March 1998. A review of the LAUSD website shows Pina has worked as a community organizer for the school district as early as February 2002.
In an email to "SoCal Connected," LAUSD's director of communications, Thomas Waldman, confirmed former priest Joseph Pina is "the same Joseph Pina" who has been working at the district. Waldman did not have employment dates or Pina's current employment status. As a community organizer at LAUSD, he organized and attended dozens of community outreach events throughout the city.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday for a new occupational center in Bell, an event Pina reportedly organized for the district, one man told "SoCal Connected" that he worked with Pina and that Pina served "as community rep for this project." When asked if he was aware Pina was a former priest involved in a sexual misconduct case with a minor, the man, who declined to give his name, said he didn't know the personal life of Joe "at all" and then said he had no further comment.
Tiffany Mansour, who was helping community organizers at the Bell event, reviewed a photo "Socal Connected" showed her and recognized Pina as an LAUSD employee who has worked with her mother for a number of years. She recalled Pina used to be a priest but said she was shocked to learn that he has been involved in a sexual abuse case.
It is not known whether LAUSD knew anything of Pina's background when he was hired. In Waldman's email to "SoCal Connected," he said he had "no information of any conversation between the Church and LAUSD regarding Mr. Pina's past in the priesthood." Calls to the church's public information officer were not returned at press time. "SoCal Connected" also made numerous attempts to locate Pina, but neighbors told us he didn't come home Friday night, and they had not seen him. Pina did not return our phone call.
The once-confidential church documents reveal Pina sought treatment on several occasions for sexual misconduct. A psychological evaluation dated Oct. 8, 1993, and written to Monsignor Timothy Dyer said Pina "remains a serious risk for acting out." The document goes on to say, "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's author concludes with a recommendation, "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." The archdiocese sent him to at least two in-house treatment centers and a halfway house for sexual offenders, but also returned him to several parishes, until Pina resigned in 1998.
The documents additionally revealed the church stood behind Pina and offered words of support and comfort, support that came from the man at the very top: then Archdiocese Roger Mahony. "Dear Joe," wrote Mahony in June 1990, "I just want to renew in writing my esteem, affection and prayers for you during these days of some trial." Mahony ends the letter by writing "you continue to have my prayers, my support and my friendship."
The Pina files raise serious questions about the extent of the church's systematic cover-up, and whether any steps were taken to inform LAUSD of the former priest's troubled background while he was working for the nation's second largest school district.
In his resignation letter to the parishioners of St. Emydius dated March 14, 1998, he wrote "the time has come for me to seek more serious help for my personal issues. For some time now I thought that I was working on my recovery issues diligently and honestly. However, I was not."
Watch more on this story on "SoCal Connected" on Monday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on KCET.
Update, Monday, February 4: L.A. Archdiocese Says It Warned LAUSD Not To Hire Former Priest
(Photo Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)