SAN JOSE -- Bishop Patrick McGrath apologized during a family Mass on Sunday for "a failure at the diocese level" that gave permission to a convicted child molester to volunteer at the Saint Frances Cabrini parish festival last month.
"I take full responsibility," McGrath told the congregation from the podium moments before the service began at Cabrini, located on Camden Avenue in San Jose. "I pledge to you I will do everything in my power to make sure this doesn't happen again."
Although the bishop said he hoped his remarks and a letter he included in the parish bulletin would "answer some of your questions," neither explained how or why a letter was written and signed by someone at the diocese vouching for pedophile Mark Gurries. The 51-year-old engineer, married to a former teacher at Saint Frances Cabrini, was convicted just two years ago of "lewd and lascivious conduct" on a minor under 14 years old. He served nearly a year in county jail and remains on probation. The victim was a relative.
"As a matter of record, it was a mistake that allowed Mr. Gurries to be a parish volunteer and to be present at the festival," the bishop wrote in the letter included in the bulletin. "Our policy is clear: No one who has been found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult can be hired or allowed to be a volunteer that involves children, young people or vulnerable adults."
McGrath, 67, the bishop of the San Jose Diocese since
"How this happened is still a matter of continuing investigation on the diocesan level," the bishop's letter said. "Even before that investigation is concluded, I want to assure you that we will never knowingly allow such an occurrence to be repeated in the Diocese of San Jose."
John Borrelli, a parent at Saint Frances Cabrini who confronted the parish pastor about Gurries on the night of the festival and spoke on the record to this newspaper about what happened, said "it made me feel very good for the bishop to see what we tried to do that night was correct."
McGrath said he has met with Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, who offered to meet with concerned parents at the school from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 27. At a later date, the diocese and the sheriff's office will also host a community awareness presentation focusing on Megan's Law and requirements for sex registrants.
According to the California Penal Code, registered sex offenders may be allowed on school grounds if they have written permission from the chief administrative official of that school. Without such permission, a registered sex offender can be convicted of a misdemeanor for being on school grounds.
The school principal told parents in a letter last week that no one from the school administration had given permission. However, the parish priest, the Rev. Lieu Vu, told angry parents at the festival that Gurries had a letter giving him permission, that he had a right to be there and should be forgiven. That letter came from the diocese but has not been made public. It remains unclear who signed it and who authorized it.
The incident resonated throughout the Catholic community, especially in light of years of priest sex abuse scandals and cover-ups by church officials locally and across the country.
It is unclear why Gurries, whose wife no longer works at the school nor has any children there, would request to be a volunteer, although he may have been a member of the parish. He worked the sound system at the festival on Oct. 6.
"There's still questions as to why this person wrote the letter," Borrelli said. "Who wrote this mysterious letter. Who approved such a thing. These people have to be held responsible for what happened."
Listed sex offender
Borrelli's daughter, 19-year-old Melanie Borrelli, was home from college and working the festival with her parents and when she spotted Gurries, whom she had heard was a pedophile.
She Googled his name on her smartphone and found his photo on the Megan's List of sex offenders and showed her parents. A group of parents then asked Vu to oust Gurries from campus, but Vu said Gurries had a letter and a right to be there.
It took about five hours of tension and yelling before a sheriff's deputy, who was working as security at the festival, escorted him from the school grounds. In interviews with this paper, parents said that after the incident, they demanded answers from the parish and school, but never received any until a story about the incident involving Gurries was published in the paper.
Vu officiated at Mass on Sunday and delivered a sermon about Thanksgiving, but did not mention the incident.
McGrath, who appeared in church wearing a black clerical suit and collar, ended his brief comments to the congregation with this:
"I ask for your prayer, and I ask God to bless us all."
Borrelli firmly believes the diocese still must publicly answer questions about the letter, including who authorized it and who knew a sex offender had clearance to volunteer on campus.
"They need to come forth and tell the parents what happened and why and that it's never going to happen again," Borrelli said. "The parents that believe in the school, we all deserve this. I'm not going to leave and go elsewhere. I'm trying to clean up the problems at that school."