Lawsuit blames San Jose church in priest abuse

Associated Press/March 1, 2003

San Jose, Calif. -- Two brothers have filed a lawsuit claiming Roman Catholic Church officials should have known about the inappropriate behavior of a local priest before he was convicted of lewd conduct with a minor.

The brothers, who were 12 and 14 when they told police in 1976 that the Rev. Leonel Noia had molested them during an overnight camping trip, allege church officials should have known about the priest's inappropriate behavior toward a number of boys.

Friday's suit provides no evidence of any other molestations.

Noia was originally charged with molesting both brothers in 1976, he pleaded no contest to lewd conduct with one brother and the other charge was dismissed.

The brothers asked not to be identified.

After probation and counseling, Noia was allowed to return to service as a priest by the Archdiocese of San Francisco and became a popular pastor at a San Jose church.

Last year, amid sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath announced Noia would no longer be allowed to perform any public functions as a priest.

The suit was filed by attorneys Robert L. Mezzetti II, Jean Starcevich and Robert Tobin, who negotiated a $7.5 million settlement last year on behalf of two men who were molested by two Jesuit clergymen in Los Gatos.

The attorneys said they were able to bring their claims to court as the result of a new state law that extends the statute of limitations for lawsuits to hold the church responsible for molestations that occurred in the past.

The lawsuit does not identify Noia by name. But he is named in criminal court files as the priest who was convicted of molesting one of the brothers bringing the lawsuit.

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