By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
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By then, church officials had tired of covering up Ramos' numerous crimes (see accompanying article). Johnson called his colleague in the Tijuana diocese, Bishop Emilio Berlie, after Ramos acknowledged “slipping” with a 17-year-old altar boy at St. Anthony Claret. Johnson, crying on the phone, asked Berlie if he could take Ramos. Berlie agreed. Three months after Ramos admitted to his indiscretion, Tijuana church officials placed him in charge of a children's ministry in Our Lady of the Divine Providence in Tijuana's impoverished Colonia Libertad district.
Orange diocesan officials prohibited Ramos from ever ministering in the States again. Nevertheless, Ramos would cross the border and officiate at family weddings and baptisms many times during the next five years, always with the knowledge of church officials. In one case, he conducted the wedding of Robert, the same boy whom Ramos and three men had gang-raped.
“Even though you are living apart from us; you still belong to us,” Johnson wrote to Ramos shortly after he arrived in Tijuana. “We very much care about what happens to you and we will do whatever needs to be done to be of assistance.”
Ramos lived in peace for the next five years. “My present ministry in Tijuana is a most enriching and loving experience,” he wrote to an Orange diocesan lay worker a short time later. Johnson awarded Ramos a $332-a-month stipend (later increased to $500) along with full car and health insurance. Bills show Ramos forsook clinical care in Tijuana for St. Jude's Hospital in Fullerton. As the years passed, Ramos also headed the liturgical commission for the Tijuana diocese and was one of the few priests who fearlessly administered sacraments to AIDS patients. When Berlie met Norman McFarland, Johnson's successor, at a bishops' conference in Dallas during the late 1980s, Berlie told the Orange bishop, “Gee, we have one of your priests down here, and he's doing a great job for us.”
On the 20th anniversary of his ordination, in the spring of 1986, Ramos sent a card to friends—and many of his victims. “These 20 years have given me moments of pain, problems, difficulties, failure, and illness,” Ramos wrote. “You have prayed for me, stayed by me, cheered me, laughed at and with me—in a word, you have loved me.”
HIS FRIEND AL
While Ramos enjoyed his new life in Tijuana during the spring of 1990, Michael was about to start anew as well.
The 25-year-old's life had bottomed out. He graduated from Mater Dei High School and Chapman College in the 1980s despite drinking heavily and taking copious amounts of drugs. “My drug of choice was more,” says Michael, now sober for 16 years.
In 1989, Michael earned his third DUI. He entered Alcoholics Anonymous under a court order. Through A.A., Michael got a sponsor who suggested therapy. There, it all came back.
Michael was 11 years old when Ramos arrived at Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1978. He describes his family as “hardcore Catholic.” The kids attended the parish school; the parents, both immigrants, volunteered all their free time at Immaculate Heart and attended Mass six times a week. Michael was a rectory boy—he fielded calls, opened mail, and noted when priests came and left.
One Friday night in the winter of 1978, Ramos asked Michael if he could help at a quinceañera the following day. Ramos called Michael's parents and asked if he could spend the night. That wouldn't be a problem, they said; by that point, Ramos was already taking Michael home late at night.
Michael got off work at 9 p.m. and went up to Ramos' room. There, he found other altar boys smoking and drinking. Ramos offered Michael some orange juice, which he thought tasted rancid. He didn't know then that it was the first time he had ever tasted alcohol.
The other boys drifted away until just Ramos and Michael remained. Ramos let the diminutive Michael drink more screwdrivers, which made him feel dizzy. The preteen lay on Ramos' bed to collect himself. Suddenly, Ramos leaped on top of Michael and began kissing him. “I couldn't get him off,” Michael says now. “The fat-ass was just too big.” Ramos kept his full weight on Michael as he undid his pants and kneeled.
When Ramos finished, Michael fled to the bathroom, locked the door and stayed there through the night. The next day, he helped Ramos with the quinceañera.
Ramos molested Michael for almost a decade, from the time Ramos was at Immaculate Heart until his departure for Tijuana, when Michael was 18. He would pull him out of class and take him on vacations.
“He told me I was his special friend,” Michael says. “Whenever we were alone, he would always grope me. So I learned to drink as much as possible as quickly as possible, then forget everything.”
Through therapy, Michael remembered more: the sexually suggestive letters Ramos constantly sent that always ended with the note, “Your friend, Al”; the molestations; the things Ramos would tell Michael: you're my gift from God. God gave you to me. Our paths were destined to meet.