Rev. Robert Van Handel, o.f.m.

Summary of Case: A Franciscan priest, Robert Van Handel may have sexually abused 150 boys, ages 8-12, while he was director of the Santa Barbara Boys' Choir and a teacher at St. Anthony's High School Seminary. Van Handel was one of dozens of priests and brothers who sexually abused boys from the 1960s-1990s at St. Anthony's. Van Handel had himself been molested as a boy as a St. Anthony's student. When victims started coming forward in 1992 Van Handel was removed from active ministry and sent to treatment. He was convicted of child sexual abuse in 1994 and sentenced to eight years in prison. He served four years in prison, and four years on parole. He is last known to be living in Santa Cruz County, CA as a registered sex offender.

: 1975


Start Stop Parish/Assignment Town/Accusations State Position Notes


Los Angeles archbishop was Timothy Manning (1970-1985), followed by Roger Michael Mahony (1985-2011)

1987 St. Anthony's Seminary High School

Santa Barbara

St. Anthony's and the Santa Barbara Boys' Choirs were sources of victims for Van Handel from 1975-1992. According to a lawsuit, as of Sept. 2004 fourteen Van Handel victims were identified.

A 2009 lawsuit said that Franciscans with no medical training at St. Anthony's in the 1960s and 1970s would routinely check boys in the infirmary for undescended testicles, and that Van Handel participated in this ruse.

Van Handel admitted to his therapist in the 1990s to having molested his "little nephew" while staying at his sister's house in Oregon, not long after his ordination.

CA Rector 1985-1991

St. Anthony's had 55-97 students.

This high school seminary boarding school closed in 1987.

A 1993 church appointed board of inquiry found that 11 priests had abused 34 students at St. Anthony's from the 1960s to 1987.

Some of the perpetrators had themselves been sexually abused as boys attending St. Anthony's, including Van Handel.

The St. Anthony's property adjoined that of Old Mission Santa Barbara.

1987 1991 St. Anthony's Seminary Santa Barbara CA    
1970s 1990s Santa Barbara Boys' Choir

Santa Barbara

Two more former Boys' Choir members accused Van Handel of sexually abusing them, between 1989-1994, in a Dec. 2004 lawsuit.

Van Handel's therapist wrote to the Court in 1994 that Van Handel likely molested 150 eight- to twelve-year-olds as director of the Santa Barbara Boys Choir. In Van Handel's diary, confiscated in 1994 by police, he wrote that the Boys' Choir provided a constant supply of attractive little boys.

CA Director

Another Santa Barbara Boys' Choir leader and St. Anthony's teacher, Rev. Philip Wolfe, O.F.M. , pleaded no contest in 1989 to engaging in oral sex with a boy. It was his conviction that lead to the discovery of decades of sexual abuse of boys at the seminary by dozens of priests. Also among the Franciscan offenders were Revs. Cimmarusti and Krumm, and Bro. Cabot.

Wolfe took his own life in Nov. 1994, just after completing probation.


Oakland bishop was John Stephen Cummins (1977-2003)

1992 Franciscan Friars Provincial House, Province of St. Barbara Oakland CA secretarial work Van Handel lived in Berkeley and worked at the Provincial office in Oakland. He was removed "from a church in San Francisco" in 1992.
1992   St. Luke's Institute Suiteland MD patient Van Handel admitted his pedophilic behavior to his Provincial in the Spring of 1992, and was subsequently sent to St. Luke's for treatment.
  1994 Pacific Treatment Associates Santa Cruz CA patient  
1994 2012   Santa Cruz CA  

In 1994 Van Handel was convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to eight years in prison. He served four years in prison, and four years on parole.

In Aug. 2006 The Franciscans and L.A. archdiocese settled with 26 people who claimed they were sexually abused as children by Franciscans. Most of the abuse is said to have occurred at St. Anthony's Seminary High School. The settlement included an agreement that church documents related to the abuse cases would be made public. Six accused Franciscans fought the agreement. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman ruled against the friars, writing, "The rights of privacy must give way to the State's interest in protecting children from sexual abuse." Lichtman noted that, since 1958, 54 children were sexually abused by Franciscans who worked at or near St. Anthony's and the Santa Barbara Mission. The Franciscan files were released in May 2012.

The parents of a Van Handel victim established the "Therapy Trust for Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse."


Van Handel is last known to be living in Santa Cruz County, CA as a registered sex offender.


Sources: Official Catholic Directory (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1976-1992)

Molested at St. Anthony's, By Andrew Rice, Santa Barbara Independent, December 2-9, 1993
Priest Given 8 Years in Prison in Molestations, Associated Press, carried in Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1994
Former Priest in Seminary Molestation Case Commits Suicide, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1994
John Roe 4 vs. Does, Cause No. 1156450, Superior Court of California, Aug. 27, 2004
LA Archdiocesan Report 2.17.04 page 6
Suit brings clergy abuse allegations into the light, By Thomas Schultz, Santa Barbara News-Press, September 27, 2004
2 Brothers' Suit Accuses Priests of Molestation, By Fred Alvarez, Los Angeles Times, December 30, 2004
ADDENDUM TO THE REPORT TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD [continued] Archdiocese of Los Angeles, October 12, 2005
'Painful Memories', By Melissa Evans, Santa Barbara News-Press [California], February 26, 2006
Attorneys Work on Accord in Seminary Abuse Cases, By Jean Guccione, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2006
Major Sexual Abuse Settlements in the Catholic Church, March 13, 2006,
Deal Reached in Franciscan Sex Abuse Suits, By Jean Guccione, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2006
L.A. Times Database, April 20, 2006
Sex Abuse Victims Settle with Archdiocese, By Carina Corral, KSBY [California], August 9, 2006
Franciscans Settle, By Martha Sadler, The Santa Barbara Independent [California], August 10, 2006
Healing Old Wounds, Parents of Church Sex Abuse Victim Raise Money for Therapy, By Nick Welsh, Santa Barbara Independent [California] April 19, 2007
Pedophile Priests Lose Privacy Rights, Lifting the Veil, By Nick Welsh, Santa Barbara Independent, June 21, 2007
Pedophile-Priest Victim Describes Meeting Pope, Between Faith, Fury & Forgiveness, By Nick Welsh, Santa Barbara Independent, June 19, 2008
When 24 Pedophile Priests from One Town Rape 60 Children, It Is a Public Nuisance. Sol Breakthrough Suit Filed against Franciscans in Santa Barbara, By Kay Ebeling, City of Angels, September 22, 2008
Franciscans Are a Public Nuisance for Letting Children Be Raped over Decades, Says Santa Barbara Lawsuit, Which Could Work in Other States As Well, By Kay Ebeling, City of Angels, December 13, 2008
Opposition to Fransciscan Request to Lump Ongoing Public Nuisance Case in Santa Barbara with Clergy Cases in LA, City of Angels, September 24, 2008
Judge Orders Records of Priests Accused of Molestation Released, By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2009
Ernesto C. v. Franciscan Friars of California, Inc.; Old Mission Santa Barbara, Oct. 5, 2009
Craig Clover, an individual, Plaintiffs, v. Franciscan Friars of California, Inc., Nov. 3, 2009
The Franciscan Grabbed the Freshman by the Testicles and Instructed the Boy to Cough As If It Were a Hernia Exam. Just Another Day of Seminary Life, City of Angels, December 1, 2009
Storm the Vatican April 2010. Also, Money for Therapy Comes from Plaintiffs Not Church, and Santa Barbara Story Part 3, By Kay Ebeling, City of Angels, December 1, 2009
Predator Franciscan Describes Years He Ran Santa Barbara Boys Choir, "a Constant Supply of Attractive Little Boys", By Kay Ebeling
City of Angels, January 26, 2010
Pedophile Mind: As Sentencing Approaches, Priest Pours out Sexual History Hoping for Probation, Gets Notoriety Instead, By Kay Ebeling, City of Angels, January 29, 2010
Priest Abused a Boy a Month in Santa Barbara Boys Choir. with 150 Victims, He Serves Time for One. Now Living in Santa Cruz, By Kay Ebeling, City of Angels, February 5, 2010
Therapy Trust for Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse, Healing and Spirituality,, March 1, 2010
Opinion in John Doe 1 ET Al. V. Franciscan Friars of California, Inc., Court of Appeal of the State of California, September 30, 2010
Court of Appeal Upholds Order Releasing Priests’ Records, Metropolitan News-Enterprise, October 2, 2010
Three Groups Push to Open Church Records, SNAP, December 1, 2010
Apnewsbreak: Franciscan Files Tell Abuse Story, Fox News, May 22, 2012
Roman Catholic Church Abuse Files Released in Unprecedented Move, CBS Los Angeles, May 23, 2012
Franciscan Clergy Sex-Abuse Case Records Released, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2012
Archive of Franciscan Sex Abuse in the Province of St. Barbara,, May 23, 2012
'Sex History' Window to Pedophile Priest's Mind, By Gillian Flaccus, San Antonio Express-News, June 1, 2012
Boulder Creek Pedophile Priest Kept Detailed Diary, By Shannon Burkey , The Patch, June 1, 2012
Confessions of Priest Who Molested 17 Boys Released, KVOR, June 2, 2012
Inside the Mind of a Monster: Child Sex Abuse of Franciscan Priest Revealed in His Own Sick Words, Daily Mail, June 2, 2012

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Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections.

This assignment record collates Van Handel's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory with allegations as reported in the media. We make no representation regarding the truth of the allegation we report, and we remind our readers that the U.S. legal system presumes that a person accused of or charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Similarly, individuals who may be defendants in civil actions are presumed not to be liable for such claims unless a plaintiff proves otherwise. Admissions of guilt or liability are not typically a part of civil or private settlements. For more information, see our posting policy.

This assignment record was last updated on June 22, 2012