Suit says church covered up abuse

Marin Independent Journal/July 12, 2003
By Con Garretson

A former Novato altar boy frustrated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to charges being dropped against the Catholic priest who allegedly molested him 19 years ago is speaking out publicly about the case.

Jay Seaman, 31, of Novato, has filed a lawsuit in Marin Superior Court saying he was molested by a priest and that officials in the Roman Catholic Church conspired to cover up the abuse. A church official and the police acknowledge Seaman was the person reportedly victimized by the Rev. Milton Walsh.

For legal reasons, the seven defendants in the lawsuit filed last week - days after the high court overturned a California law that had allowed for such cases to be filed beyond the normal statute of limitations - were not identified by name. In this type of case, a judge must first rule on the merits of the allegations before the defendants can be served with the lawsuit or be publicly identified.

According to the lawsuit, "The coverup of the sexual abuse by officials of the Roman Catholic Church and the mishandling of sexual predators within its organization often (as was true in the instant case) involved wrongdoing by some of the highest officials within the Roman Catholic Church organization."

The lawsuit identifies as "John Doe I" a Catholic priest who once served at a Marin church who was "promoted to a position of particularly high power and prestige, directly assisting the bishop of San Francisco" and who was later transferred to Rome.

Walsh, 50, was an assistant pastor at Seaman's former parish in Novato, Our Lady of Loretto Church, and then became an assistant to former San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn.

He was charged with molesting a boy, who was not identified in the criminal case, while visiting Novato during a break in his doctoral studies in Rome. He later served as pastor of St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco from 1989 to 1997.

Seaman said he was motivated to file the lawsuit and speak out publicly because of his frustration with the high court's decision and in hopes "some justice comes out of this."

"I want the dirty secret out," Seaman said. "The church has been harboring this secret for a very long time. It's time people know what really happened. A lot of people are in denial that this really happened and it was really this bad. ... I want people to know this really happened and it's terrible and it's affected people for a very long time."

Seaman, a married father of three who works as a bridge painter, said he is not concerned that his friends and co-workers will now know about his alleged abuse. He said he hopes victims of child molestation, particularly those abused by priests, decide to come forward as a result of his actions.

"I have no shame and victims shouldn't have shame over this because this wasn't something we asked to have happen to us," he said. "There's a healing process doing this."

The San Francisco Archdiocese identified Walsh and several other alleged molesters to Marin prosecutors last year in light of a national sex scandal involving members of the Catholic clergy.

The district attorney's office filed charges against four current and one former priest on sex charges involving minors. Charges have been dropped against three of them already, including Walsh, and the other two cases are expected to be dismissed later this month.

Walsh was charged last October with two felony counts of molesting a child under age 14. Court records show Walsh made incriminating statements about the alleged abuse to Seaman in a phone conversation secretly recorded by Novato police last year.

Last month a judge determined there was enough evidence to justify a trial for Walsh, but the case was dismissed July 1 when it was scheduled to be set for trial. The dismissal came after the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that the California law under which Walsh and the others were charged was unconstitutional.

The law had allowed for the prosecution of old molestation allegations in cases where reports of "substantial sexual conduct" could be corroborated and if a case were filed within a year of the allegations being reported to police.

"I thought I had something going with the criminal case and then to have that shot down I was disappointed and upset, very upset," Seaman said. "And it ended up being such a waste of time (for police and prosecutors).

"It's a difficult ruling no matter how you swallow it. There's no statute of limitations on murder. They can find DNA long after the fact and still convict you. These people did terrible things to kids and I feel they should be held accountable for that."

An altar boy at the time of the alleged abuse, Seaman said he had "idolized" Walsh and had considered joining the priesthood until his alleged abuse, which culminated while the defendant stayed at his home on his 13th birthday.

Seaman said he is no longer active in the Catholic Church and that his young son and infant twin daughters were baptized in his wife's Episcopalian faith.

"It was a huge betrayal of trust," he said. "This is someone we treated like a family member. We did things together. He was there for my birthdays and my first Holy Communion. We corresponded with him when he was gone."

Seaman said his parents reported the alleged abuse to then-San Francisco Diocese Archbishop Quinn who, Seaman said, discouraged them from contacting police after assuring them Walsh would receive therapy and be kept from interacting with children.

The lawsuit alleges the church destroyed or hid documentation relating to his alleged abuse and that church officials opted against reporting Seaman's allegations to authorities or parishioners.

"Rather, the victim was intimidated," the lawsuit says. "The bishop himself not only failed to report said abuse but counseled the family in that regard and advised 'the boy will forget.'"

The lawsuit alleges childhood sexual abuse, battery, conspiracy, being an accessory to a felony, breach of confidential relationship, fraud and deceit, constructive fraud, negligent failure to protect, and negligent placement, retention, supervision or control.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified general damages for medical and therapy expenses, lost earnings, lost earnings capacity and the cost of the lawsuit.

San Francisco Archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy said Walsh has moved to an unknown location from the Menlo Park seminary where he was living and teaching until just before the criminal charges were filed last October.

Walsh resigned from his teaching position last August and remains barred from active ministry by the church pending an as-yet unscheduled disciplinary review that could result in his being defrocked, Healy said.

A message left for Walsh with the secretary for his supervising bishop was not returned.

In a voicemail message, Emeryville defense attorney Cristina Arguedas, who represented Walsh in the criminal case, said she was not aware of the civil filing.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.