SAN DIEGO • Documents recently released by a San Diego judge in conjunction with a sex abuse lawsuit reveal that a former St. Joseph Catholic Church priest who was convicted of molesting a 13-year-old boy in Barstow 23 years ago was transferred to a Diocese in Mexico, where he still ministers.

Rev. Gustavo Benson — who served at St. Joseph from January of 1985 until leaving in December of 1986 —  received a sentence of three years probation after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of molestation in a plea bargain agreement in Barstow in 1987.

Benson was accused of molesting two teenage boys at his Barstow home and giving two other boys beer and wine coolers at his Forest Hills cabin.

Benson's personal record with the Diocese shows that he began work in Mexico in 1987, and was placed under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Tijuana in 1991.

The Associated Press contacted the Diocese of Ensenada, where a secretary said Benson was on vacation.

Benson wished to come back to California to preach in 1994, but was denied permission, according to correspondence between Benson and a bishop at the Diocese of San Bernardino.  The bishop wrote in reply to Benson's request for an explanation.

"I think you realize that things have changed since you underwent treatment with the Paracletes in Jimez Springs," wrote the bishop, whose name was redacted from the June 1, 1994, letter to Benson. "It is impossible for you to serve as a priest in the Diocese of San Bernardino today ... I can not approve of your preaching for mission appeal here in the diocese."

A bishop from the Diocese of San Bernardino also wrote Benson in 1990, recommending that Benson join a sex anonymous group.

"You mentioned you checked into this, but have not yet joined a group," wrote the bishop. "I encourage your participation in this kind of program."

The files also contain information about two other former St. Joseph priests accused of abuse — Rev. Anthony Rodrigue and Rev. John Keith. Both were named in a recent lawsuit filed by two ex-military men who reached an out-of-court settlement. Keith's file contains only his two-page personal record while Rodrigue's file is over 1,000 pages — many of which are photocopies of St. Joseph church directories and bulletins.

St. Joseph staff directed inquiries about Benson to the Diocese of San Bernardino.

John Andrews, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, said that released documents show that the diocese has a different way of responding to sexual misconduct than they did in the past.

Andrews said that the diocese now has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse and anyone convicted of such conduct would now be barred from serving any public ministry, and their full record submitted to the Vatican.

Documents released by the judge can currently be viewed at www.bishop-accountabilty.org.

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(760) 256-4126 or adome@desertdispatch.com