He abused at least one victim at the seminary, where the child would spend the night with Van Handel because his mother worked odd hours as a chef.
One of his alleged victims, Bob Eckert, said he never thought at the time what Van Handel was doing was wrong. The priest helped the 10-year-old Eckert shower with other boys while the choir was touring Europe and then photographed him, Eckert said.
"I completely looked up to him. He was the one who determined who was going to be in and who was going to be out," said Eckert, who is now a 42-year-old general contractor living in Santa Barbara. "My mom had total faith in him, and I had no question that anything was wrong with being there."
Another priest, the Rev. Mario Cimmarrusti, has also been accused of abusing multiple students while he held the dual roles of head disciplinarian and head of the infirmary at St. Anthony's in the late 1960s. Cimmarrusti, who also attended the school as a teenager, took over as prefect of discipline the year Van Handel graduated.
His confidential files show that in an evaluation by a sex offender therapist, the priest estimated he had molested between 30 and 40 boys. On another occasion, Cimmarrusti said he may have molested as many as 250 boys, according to the evaluation included in his personnel file.
He is not the priest who Van Handel said molested him in the infirmary.
Cimmarrusti, who is now 82, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Robert "Skip" Howie, said Cimmarrusti vehemently denies all the allegations against him.
"As an attorney, I can tell you that records can be deceptive and misleading," he said. "I'm really not here to argue the case, but all I can say is that he denies it."
The priest has been accused by 24 former students who alleged in lawsuits that Cimmarrusti performed hernia checks on the incoming freshman class as an excuse to fondle them; delivered violent, sexually charged beatings for minor disciplinary infractions; and molested students who were sick in the infirmary.
One student, Paul Palecek, quit the seminary because of the abuse, he said, and gave up on his dream of becoming a Franciscan priest. He remains active in the church and with missionary work overseas. Now 62, the semi-retired former contractor is studying to become a nurse.
Palecek testified that he told the school's rector about the abuse but nothing was done. In a deposition, the Rev. Xavier Harris said he didn't recall the conversation and there is no record of it in the priest's internal files. Bosnahan, the Franciscans' attorney, said he had no further information.
"I was really mad at God for a long time, but it wasn't God's fault. Mario chose to do evil," Palecek said. "Someone should have caught it. Someone should have caught it and done something about it."
The AP does not normally identify victims of sexual abuse. Palecek and Eckert gave permission to use their names in interviews with the AP.
Cimmarrusti went on to spend six years at St. Anthony's after Palecek's departure and then served as a missionary at a medical dispensary in Guayamas, Mexico, and in parishes in the Northern California towns of Stockton, Delano and San Miguel before being removed from the ministry in 1993 as his past closed in.
St. Anthony's closed in 1987, just a few years before the first of the former students began to come forward with their allegations. Now, with the disclosure of the documents, some of the former seminarians feel they can finally move on with their lives.
"This is like a wound and it's festering. In order to get this pus and this infection out, you have to open up the wound and let the air get to it and let it heal," Palecek said. "I can apply that to my life and to the Catholic Church. You have to open up these documents and let the air get to them so we can heal."
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