A renowned professor of medieval art history at Arizona State University was forced to resign Thursday after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced he had sexually abused minors decades ago while he was an East Coast priest.
Professor Jaime Lara was ordained in 1973 and was in active ministry until 1992 when he was laicized by the Vatican for sexually abusing children, the Diocese of Brooklyn confirmed Wednesday on its website.
Upon learning of his history as a priest, ASU officials on Thursday requested he resign from his role as a research professor from the university’s Tempe campus, school officials confirmed to The Arizona Republic.
His resignation was tendered that same day and effective immediately.
The laicization, which prohibits Lara from carrying out priestly duties, was handed down by a decree from the Vatican office “authorized to deal with cases involving sexual abuse of minors by a cleric,” the diocese said.
Lara majored in cultural anthropology at Cathedral College in New York, according to his curricula vitae. After graduating in 1969, he went on to earn a Master of Divinity at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York. He then studied in Puerto Rico and Colombia before returning to New York City.
He was ordained there in 1973 and remained in the church until 1992, the Brooklyn Diocese confirmed on Wednesday, posting the names of seven other former clerics who had been defrocked after child sex-abuse allegations.
It was between 1979 to 1981 that Lara sexually abused three children ranging in age from 9 to 11 years old at St. Francis Xavier Church in Brooklyn, New York, the victims’ attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, told The Republic in a Friday telephone interview.
“This is just another instance of the Catholic Church hiding a predator and therefore unnecessarily putting children in danger,” he said. “The risk of reoffense is too great for the Catholic Church to continue its secrecy in these matters. Transparency is needed, and transparency is needed immediately.”
Garabedian has represented hundreds of victims of sexual abuse and was portrayed in the Academy Award-winning 2015 film Spotlight, which told the story of his effort and that of Boston Globe journalists to illuminate rampant sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church.
He called the church’s announcement this week involving Lara as “spin control.”
“My clients are trying to gain a degree of closure and move on with their lives,” he said, adding that ASU failed to fully vet Lara’s history before bringing him aboard the institution. “Unfortunately, his stature in the community, however false, was not a surprise to me.”
Attempts to reach Lara for comment on this story Friday were unsuccessful.
A statement from the diocese late Friday said that providing the names of living priests who were laicized because of allegations of sexual abuse was an effort to protect children.
“It is important to note that all of the names posted on the Diocese of Brooklyn’s website were passed along to the appropriate law enforcement agencies years ago,” Carolyn Erstad, diocese spokeswoman, said. “So while this is the first time they are being posted publicly, they were shared with law enforcement.”
Erstad said the diocese in June started an effort, called the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, to provide financial compensation to abuse survivors.
From the church to academia
After being barred from the church in 1992, Lara began his career in teaching, first as a visiting professor of art and humanities in Colombia. In 1995 he began working as an adjunct professor at Yale, where he gained recognition and was published extensively before his departure in 2009.
Lara taught for years at institutions around the country before landing at ASU in 2013, records show. Administrators apparently did not know he spent nearly two decades as a priest, and Lara’s time in active ministry — where he was known as Rev. James Lara — is notably absent from his 18-page CV, reviewed by The Republic.
It was unclear Friday whether the university would conduct any follow-up investigations into Lara or the process through which he was hired. There are no reports of abuse committed during his time at ASU, the university said.
His university page online indicates he taught multiple upper-division art and history classes at ASU. He also created a new course, the Afterlife of the Apocalypse in Art, Architecture and Western Culture.
University officials on Friday — part of a long holiday weekend — were unable to confirm the veracity of his CV, officials said. It was not immediately clear to what extent he taught classes on campus or whether he was exclusively serving as a researcher based at ASU.
Garabedian said the alleged victims in this case against Lara are involved in settlement discussions. He described Lara’s movement from the church to academia — and his ability to fly under the radar — as institutions merely “passing the trash.”
“The Catholic Church cannot hide behind the veil of religion, nor can Arizona State hide behind the veil of education, as an excuse to put children at risk with predators.”