SAN JOSE -- A letter granting permission to a convicted pedophile to volunteer at the Saint Frances Cabrini Catholic school fall festival filled with children was "not consistent" with Diocese of San Jose policies, church officials said Thursday in a statement that raised more troubling questions than it answered.
Child molester Mark Gurries was escorted off campus last month by a sheriff's deputy when someone who knew about his 2010 conviction complained to the deputy and the parish priest and demanded he be removed. Gurries, 51, was not arrested because he produced a letter from the church vouching for him despite his conviction, a sheriff's department spokesman says.
In a brief statement Thursday, the diocese said that "Gurries, a registered sex offender, is no longer a volunteer at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish. The letter, by which he was able to be admitted as a volunteer, is not consistent with the policies of the Diocese of San Jose."
It concludes with this: "The Diocese remains committed to providing a safe environment for all, most especially children, young people and vulnerable adults."
The diocese refused to explain how the diocese was providing a safe environment for children as recently as Oct. 6 by allowing a known sex offender, convicted just two years ago of lewd and lascivious acts on a minor under 14, to volunteer on campus brimming with children the same age as his victim was.
The diocese didn't answer questions
"We will respond to your questions as soon as the Diocese of San Jose completes its internal investigation," diocese spokewoman Bernie Luongo Hoye said in an email late Thursday.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office is also continuing to investigate the incident.
Lawyer Robert Mezzetti II of San Jose, who has represented 50 clients in molestation cases against Catholic priests, said the response of the diocese shows the church has learned nothing from its past.
"If they knew about it and allowed him to be there, wouldn't you want to inform the congregation that, by the way, we've got this convicted child molester so keep an eye on your children and we'll keep an eye on him?" Mezzetti said. "Now that this has happened, they should be going to those parents and finding out if any of their children had contact with this guy, if they were ever alone with him. That investigation should be done and letters should be sent out to all the congregation and parishioners to say, 'Please, talk to your child.'"
This incident, Mezzetti said, is no different than past church practices of "taking a priest, who has been convicted or accused, and taking them to another location and not telling anybody."
Gurries, whose wife is a former Saint Frances Cabrini teacher, was volunteering at the parish festival on Oct. 6 when someone recognized him as a sex offender and informed a deputy sheriff who was working as security, according to witnesses and the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.
Witnesses who spoke to the Mercury News on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from church and school officials, said Gurries was working in a sound booth located in close proximity to a soda booth, an entrance to the rides, the football field and gymnasium.
Gurries, who was convicted in February 2010 of one count of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14, was not arrested because of the existence of a letter signed by a church official allowing him to be on school grounds, according to sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Jose Cardoza. But the deputy escorted him off campus "out of an abundance of caution."
Staff writer Julia Prodis Sulek contributed to this report. Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez
This statement from the Diocese of San Jose is in response to The San Jose Mercury News article, November 15th, "Sexual Offender On Campus".
Mark Gurries, a registered sex offender, is no longer a volunteer at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish. The letter, by which he was able to be admitted as a volunteer, is not consistent with the policies of the Diocese of San Jose. The Diocese remains committed to providing a safe environment for all, most especially children, young people and vulnerable adults.