Reno Priest Accused In California Lawsuit

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A Reno priest has been named in civil lawsuit that alleges inappropriate behavior with a girl 31 years ago in San Diego.

The Rev. Robert Buchanan, recently retired as presiding priest at Our Lady of Snows Church in Reno, denies the allegations, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Wednesday.

The civil lawsuit, filed Oct. 14 in California Superior Court by an unnamed 45-year-old woman, accuses Buchanan of inappropriately touching her in 1972 when she was a 14-year-old student at a Roman Catholic high school.

The suit seeks unspecified damages from the Diocese of San Diego, the boarding school where the woman lived and the high school.

Buchanan is with the diocese of San Bernardino but has been a resident priest in Reno.

The lawsuit alleges Buchanan "would touch her body and rub his body up against hers" when she visited his office for academic counseling. The woman's lawyer, Irwin Zalkin, said the priest also fondled the girl over her clothing.

Buchanan denied any inappropriate behavior. "That would be a hug," Buchanan said of the description of the abuse alleged in the lawsuit.

"I have declared my innocence. But there's nothing to declare because there's nothing dealing with sexual misconduct in the suit," he told the newspaper.

Zalkin also said Buchanan was sent to a retreat called the New Life Institute for Human Development in Virginia for counseling before being assigned to work in Reno. It was unclear whether the counseling was related to the allegations contained in the lawsuit.

Buchanan declined to talk about the treatment center and referred questions to his lawyer. Robert Jassoy, his lawyer in San Diego, refused to comment on the lawsuit or the treatment the priest received.

Bishop Phillip Straling, leader of the Diocese of Reno and former bishop of the Diocese of San Diego where he knew Buchanan, said he was unaware of any inappropriate behavior by the priest with a student.

"This thing in San Diego was a total surprise to me," Straling said. "We've gone through our records and found he has had no problems with minors or children, anyone under age.

"There have been no complaints here about any misconduct," he added.

Straling confirmed, however, that Buchanan was sent to the treatment center in Virginia "to get some help for some personal problems."

But he said "it had nothing to do with children or minors," declining to discuss specifics.

Straling said that after Buchanan completed his treatment, officials recommended that he not return to San Diego. They contacted Straling, he said, and asked whether he would be willing to let Buchanan work in Reno. Straling agreed, he said, adding: "He has done a good job here."

Brother Matthew Cunningham, spokesman for the Reno diocese, said in a message e-mailed to parishes Thursday that Buchanan "has voluntarily removed himself from active ministry until this matter is resolved."

The accusations against Buchanan are the second to be lodged against a Reno priest in recent years. Monsignor Robert Bowling, the former pastor of St. Therese the Little Flower Church, was named in 11 lawsuits by women who claimed he molested or behaved sexually inappropriately with them while they were children in Louisville, Ky., or as adults.

Bowling, who died in June, denied the allegations.

Four days before his death, the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., agreed to pay $25.7 million to 243 people who accused priests of sexual abuse, including the women who made claims against Bowling.