Santa Rosa diocese sued by alleged sex abuse victim who says church hid priest's abusive past

The Canadian Press/August 20, 2010

San Francisco - A man claiming he was molested as a child by a priest sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa on Thursday for fraud and negligence, saying the church knew the priest had been accused of abusing boys but failed to warn the parish.

The suit, filed in Sonoma county Superior Court, alleges that the Bishop of Santa Rosa misrepresented then-Rev. Patrick McCabe's fitness to serve when the Irish priest was assigned as assistant pastor at St. Bernard's Church in Eureka, California, from 1983 to 1985.

Irish officials say Dublin church authorities had sent McCabe to a treatment centre for sex offenders shortly before 1983, the year he was assigned to St. Bernard's - a church with an attached school.

That's when McCabe pulled the alleged victim, then 9, out of his third-grade classroom and molested him in the church. It happened again over a period of several months, said his attorney, Joseph George.

George said his client found out recently through news reports that Mark Hurley, then the Bishop of Santa Rosa, knew McCabe had been accused of child sex abuse in Ireland. The man wishes to remain anonymous, his attorney said.

"He is livid over the fact that Bishop Hurley dumped in their lap a known pedophile without telling anyone about it," said George. "They misrepresented the qualifications of the priest. They knew they had a live wire."

The lawsuit seeks damages and costs related to therapy and the distress suffered by the alleged victim.

The diocese referred questions to their attorney, who did not immediately return calls. McCabe's attorney also did not return calls.

The current bishop, Daniel Walsh, sent a letter Tuesday to St. Bernard's parishioners saying he had just learned of McCabe's past and urged anyone harmed by McCabe to contact the church.

"Past clergy sexual abuse of minors is a great shame for the Church that we all love," he wrote. "But it is something that the Church must face and deal with in compassion and understanding for the innocent victims."

Advocates for childhood victims of clergy sex abuse called Walsh's letter disingenuous.

The bishop is urging potential victims to come to the church with any allegations of abuse, instead of telling them to go to the police, said Joey Piscitelli, Northern California director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

In April 2006, Walsh suspended a priest who admitted to sexual abuse with a 12-year-old, but took three days to notify law enforcement. The delay gave that priest, Xavier Ochoa, time to flee, said church and law enforcement officials.

Ochoa still has not been found. The diocese later settled a sex abuse lawsuit involving Ochoa by agreeing to pay more than $5 million to 10 alleged victims.

Accusations of abuse first surfaced against McCabe in Ireland in 1982, according to a 2009 report by Irish officials. The Dublin archbishop then asked Hurley for help dealing with a problematic priest. Hurley placed McCabe in St. Bernard's.

Thursday's suit is one of several using arguments of fraud and negligence, not molestation or sexual battery, to bring charges against the church for alleged sex abuse. The legal strategy seeks to circumvent the statute of limitations for sex abuse charges, which requires the suits be filed within three years of discovery, or by the time the alleged victim is 26.

The validity of this approach has yet to be decided in California court. Church attorneys in California have submitted opinions saying the theory does not pass legal muster.

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