Barragan offers victim statement: Priest molestations include SPHS trustee

March 17, 2004
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesThose who knew Eric Barragan in the late 1980s sensed that there was something troubling the boy who was always willing to help and desperately eager to please.What they didn’t know was that Barragan, now 29, a Santa Paula High School Board Trustee since he was 21, was being repeatedly molested by a close family friend, so trusted he had a key to the Barragan’s Santa Paula home where he came and went at will, often even spending the night. . .and, it turns out, taking turns molesting Barragan and his two brothers.Barragan stepped forward last week and revealed that he was a victim of former Father Carlos Rene Rodriguez, sentenced on Friday to jail for over eight years.Barragan offered a victim’s statement during the sentencing on the charges that Rodriguez finally admitted guilt to. So did Barragan’s tearful mother, who with her husband had revered the priest they first met through the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church marriage encounter group.A firm friendship was soon forged between the Barragans and Father Carlos Rodriguez. . .and the couple’s three sons.Barragan’s brothers have not been as lucky as he has: instead of burying themselves in work, community service and politics, as did Eric, they turned instead to drugs and alcohol.Eric Barragan tried to escape the molestations, which began 17 years ago, by being anywhere but home.First working in maintenance and later writing for the Santa Paula Chronicle, “I did everything I could do to be in everyone’s good graces so they would take me in and I would not have to be at home,” said Barragan. “The Johnsons at the Chronicle, Pyles Boy Camp, the Boys and Girls Club, even the church when Father Carlos wasn’t there,” became his escape from not only the priest but from his own emotions and conflicts.Nevertheless, Rodriguez had great family influence: “He encouraged my parents to go to Marriage Encounter conferences so he could spend the weekend, baby-sit and molest us,” said Barragan, who was sexually abused until he was 16 years old.Rodriguez even took Barragan to Santa Barbara where he was abused at the seminary, and molestations even occurred at Father Carlos’ mother’s home.Barragan believes that there are many other victims: “He always would be around boys, take us to other boys’ houses and bring others to ours, some from Ventura, Santa Maria, Simi Valley, all over.”It wasn’t until three years ago that the abuse of the Barragan brothers – who had not even discussed it among themselves - came to light when one brother wrote a letter from jail to a television talk show host about the molestations. The letter was also sent to the Barragan family.
The family at first did not go to police but did approach the archdiocese.Barragan said he struggled with reporting the molestations to police: “I was a public figure and our other brother,” had not yet been told that the secret had been revealed.Manuel and Edgar Barragan are coping as well as they can, as is Eric, who noted that, “I have mixed emotions about the way this was handled by the church,” and he no longer considers himself a Catholic.Although the church did arrange for counseling at a treatment center for one brother, “the church has still not said that this could have been prevented. . .they moved Carlos to Santa Barbara with explicit instructions that he not have contact with children,” after Rodriguez was yanked from St. Vincent’s in Los Angeles where he allegedly abused a teenager.“I feel frustration and disappointment over how the church is handling,” the rising number of molestation complaints. “I’m astonished at how many victims are out there that the church hasn’t reached out to. . .I know one person who was molested by a priest and committed suicide, others are on the edge.”In turn, Barragan added, the church also mistreated Rodriguez. “They knew about him, didn’t do anything and abandoned him. . .that makes me angry. That makes me think what else could be going on in the church.”Barragan is also sorry that such molesters have made other priests the source of rumors: “We had a wonderful priest called Father Rene, and people have been confusing him with Rodriguez,” whose middle name is Rene.There is now “terrible anger and guilt in my family,” that Barragan hopes will subside. “The pain of a mother and father to see their children suffer. It explains the way we are, all three of us. Our mother said it was blind faith and blind trust,” that allowed her sons to become victims of a sexual predator.Barragan has become heavily involved in SNAP, a support group for those who have been abused that encourages other victims to step forward. “To start to heal you must come forward. . .it hurts more not to say anything, my brothers and I know that.”Barragan now feels more at peace: “I can’t be mad at him anymore; I can’t carry that weight of hating him or the anger anymore. In court, I told him ‘I forgive you’ and that was it.”

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