A Catholic bishop issued an apology today to parents and community members after a registered sex offender was issued a letter allowing him to attend an elementary school festival last month.
Bishop Patrick McGrath, head of the Diocese of San Jose, said that it was a "mistake" that allowed Mark Christopher Gurries to attend and volunteer at a Saint Frances Cabrini Parish festival on Oct. 6.
"Our policy is clear: no one who has been found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult can be hired as an employee or allowed to volunteer in any activity that involves children, young people, or vulnerable adults," McGrath wrote.
"I am deeply troubled and I apologize to you that this policy was not followed," he said. By state law, Gurries, as a registered sex offender, is only allowed on a school property around children if he can produce written permission from a school administrator, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.
Registered sex offenders who walk onto a school property without authorization when children are present are subject to arrest for a misdemeanor.
Both the Sheriff's Office and the diocese are now investigating how Gurries obtained a letter allowing him on to the grounds of St. Frances Cabrini School at 15326 Woodard Road in an unincorporated area of Santa Clara County near San Jose.
"Absent that letter, he would have been arrested then and there," Sgt. Jose Cardoza said on Thursday. Sheriff Laurie Smith will be at Saint Frances Cabrini School on Tuesday, Nov. 27 from 2 to 6 p.m. to meet with parents and respond to their concerns, McGrath said.
The diocese also plans to hold a community awareness presentation on Megan's Law, sex offender registration and Internet safety, led by members of the Sheriff's Office.
The diocese has not received any reports of anyone being harmed at the parish festival in any way, McGrath said.
Dear School and Parish Communities of Saint Frances Cabrini,
I write to you to clarify the circumstances surrounding what has been reported this week about a registered sex offender being allowed to volunteer at the parish festival on October 6.
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. Our policy is clear: no one who has been found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult can be hired as an employee or allowed to volunteer in any activity that involves children, young people, or vulnerable adults. All volunteers of schools, parishes and diocesan agencies or institutions who have regular, unsupervised contact with children, youth or dependent adults must be fingerprinted and cleared by the Department of Justice.
I am deeply troubled and I apologize to you that this policy was not followed. The actions of parents at the festival who enlisted the services of the sheriff’s deputy are to be commended.
How this happened is still a matter of continuing investigation on the diocesan level. 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.
Saint Frances Cabrini Parish has contracted with the Sheriff’s Office for over fifteen years to provide enhanced security as part of our commitment in providing a safe environment for our parish and school families and our surrounding community. It is my fervent belief that this successful partnership proved beneficial during the festival.
This has been an unfortunate circumstance, and I have personally met with Sheriff Laurie Smith and we remain fully dedicated to the protection of all children. Sheriff Smith has graciously offered to be at Saint Frances Cabrini School on Tuesday, November 27, between the hours of 2:00 pm. and 6:00 pm., to meet with concerned parents, to respond to their concerns, and to reaffirm our commitment to public safety.
As we continue to work together with the Sheriff’s Office, in the near future we will host a community awareness presentation focusing on Megan’s Law, sex registrant requirements and Internet safety. This informative discussion will be provided by the Sheriff’s Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team that leads a multi-county task force specializing in registered sex offender enforcement.
The Diocese remains committed to its primary responsibility of providing a safe environment for children, young people and vulnerable adults.
Finally, I would like to make it clear that we have not received any reports of any person being harmed at the parish festival; I urge you, however, that if you were to become aware of any impropriety regarding the safety of children, please contact the police or sheriff’s department immediately.
With every best wish and kind regard, I remain,
Patrick J. McGrath
Bay City News