Buddhist university after sexual abuse allegations revealed

By Maritza Velazquez, SGVN
August 16, 2012


University of the West in Rosemead on Friday, July 6, 2012. The director of student life at the University of the West has been named in two now-settled child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits. (SGVN/Staff photo by Watchara Phomicinda)


ROSEMEAD – The University of the West terminated its director of student life after learning of a history of sexual abuse allegations lodged against the former Catholic Franciscan brother, an official with the university said Thursday.

Thomas Thing, 53, was placed on administrative leave last month following news reports that he was involved in a 2011 legal settlement with a Nevada man who accused Thing of sexually molesting and assaulting him in the mid-1980s when he was in the seventh-grade.

Thing has since been terminated from his post at the University of the West, Mason Yost, an attorney representing the Buddhist university said Thursday.

“We’ve read newspaper accounts and heard about lawsuits and settlements,” Yost said. “There has never been any complaints while he was employed at University of the West, but it was decided that he would leave and that he is no longer employed there as of Aug. 3.”

The terms of Thing’s separation from the college are still being negotiated, Yost said, adding that the university does not have a position on the allegations against Thing.

Thing did not return calls for comment Thursday, although his attorney in early July said his client denies all accusations.

“Basically, the institutions are settling these cases because they just don’t want to deal with them because there’s such a prejudice against them in the community,” his lawyer Robert Howie said in July.

At the time of alleged abuse, Thing was serving as a Franciscan brother in the Roman Catholic order.

His accuser, Tim Coonce, now 38, settled the civil suit against Thing and the Franciscan Friars of California and the Diocese of Las Vegas for $600,000.

The news of Thing’s termination comes on the heels of the Franciscan Friars of California releasing Thing’s personnel files this month as part of the settlement agreement with Coonce.

“Because Thing isn’t a registered sex offender, it was important for the plaintiff for the public to recognize the threat that he poses,” said Tim Hale, who represented Coonce in the case.

Those files, full of emails and psychological evaluations spanning about a decade, detail a history of allegations, including an allegedly inappropriate sexual relationship Thing carried on with a younger man while serving as a friar at the University of San Diego in 2000.

Thing was vaguely referred to as a “director” who had power and authority over the legal-age man, according to a confidential report issued by the Franciscans’ sexual misconduct team. The sexual affair, which went on for months, was consensual, though Thing knew it was wrong, according to the documents.

Though some of the documents do not specify whether the younger man was a student, one document notes that Thing failed a lie detector test when asked if he had ever had sex with a University of San Diego student.

Thing was ordered to vacate his position at that university.

In 2003, Thing returned to the Santa Barbara area and the Old Mission San Luis Rey, where he had attended seminary. He was provided with a guardian to monitor his activity.

Later that year, according to emails, a woman alerted the Franciscan Friars that Thing had abused her son while Thing was stationed in Las Vegas. That man was Coonce, who said Thing fondled him and forced oral copulation, according to the lawsuit.

Thing was also part of a molestation lawsuit filed in 1993.

Charles Larson, then 25, filed a lawsuit against the Franciscan order and the archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging that several priests, including Thing, sexually abused him over nine years, from 1976 to 1985, while a student at St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara.

In the suit, Larson accused Thing of rubbing his back and buttocks during a 1985 camping trip while they slept next to one another in sleeping bags.

That lawsuit, settled out of court, prompted the Franciscans to launch an inquiry into the allegations.

Thing was ordered to undergo a psychological assessment and a series of therapy. He didn’t admit to any of the allegations in those evaluations.

Thing entered the St. Anthony Seminary at the age of 14 and officially separated from the order in 2004, according to documents.

In May, the Santa Barbara Franciscans released the confidential files of nine clergy members and priests accused of sexual abuse as part of a 2006 settlement agreement in which the religious order paid out $28 million to alleged victims. Those documents outline details of the alleged sexual abuse and are considered the largest release of a religious order’s confidential files in history.

The release of Thing’s personnel file was unrelated to the 2006 settlement.

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