State clergy abuse lawsuits filed on Wednesday deadline

Lodi News-Sentinel/January 3, 2004
By Ross Farrow

Courthouses throughout California were filled with attorneys filing clergy abuse lawsuits Wednesday, the last day alleged child molestation cases -- some of them dating back decades -- could be filed.

The Stockton Diocese has been named in six to eight cases, said Larry Drivon, a Morada attorney who has filed some 300 clergy abuse lawsuits.

One or two newer cases may involve Oliver O'Grady, a former priest at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Lodi.

O'Grady was at St. Anne's from 1971 to 1978 and later transferred to four parishes in the Stockton Diocese. He served seven years in state prison for sexual abuse that took place in 1990 and 1991 in Calaveras County before being deported to his native Ireland in late 2000.

It won't be known for several days how many clergy abuse cases have been filed this week in San Joaquin County Superior Court, said court spokeswoman Leanne Kozak.

Kozak said it's difficult to determine how many cases have been filed against the Stockton Diocese because real names aren't used by the plaintiffs. They are listed either as "Doe" or "Roe."

Sacramento attorney Joseph George filed three new cases against the diocese on Monday, Kozak said. George was unavailable for comment Wednesday because his law office was closed for the holiday.

Drivon also believes two new cases have been filed recently against O'Grady, but no details were available. It was not clear whether the new lawsuits filed by George involve O'Grady.

The Stockton Diocese office was closed Wednesday, and its attorney, Paul Balestracci, wasn't available for comment.

Between 350 and 500 lawsuits involve Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, who was bishop of the Stockton Diocese from 1980 to 1985.

A vast majority of lawsuits against Mahony are from plaintiffs in Southern California, said John Manly, a Costa Mesa attorney who has filed about 80 clergy abuse lawsuits throughout the state.

"What's clear is Cardinal Mahony's pattern of protecting child rapists didn't stop when he left Stockton," Manly said.

Mahony isn't accused in the lawsuits of sexual abuse; rather he is accused of protecting priests by concealing incidents and transferring priests to different parishes, Manly said.

"This is not the junior-senior prom," Drivon said. "Roger Mahony has protected dozens of sexual predators from the police. He protected Oliver O'Grady, whom he knew to be a child rapist."

One of Manly's clients is a former St. Anne's altar boy whom O'Grady allegedly sexually assaulted in the early 1970s. The former altar boy is now in his early 40s and lives out of state, Manly said.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said that attorneys like Drivon and Manly are not necessarily telling the truth.

"Both of them stand to take a huge amount of money from any settlement," Tamberg said.

"The archdiocese believes that those victims that did suffer abuse at the hands of priests who were unscrupulous criminals should be compsenstated for their suffering when the church was at fault," Tamberg said.

But many lawsuits are decades-old claims that cannot be proven because key people to the case have died or memories have faded, Tamberg said.

"Not to say a good number of cases aren't true," he said. "That's a fact, and it's a sad fact. We don't want this to happen ever again."

Rather than clergy abuse, Drivon and Manly refer to these types of cases as "child rape."

"Nobody wants to believe what the problem is," Drivon said Wednesday. "We have been screaming for 20 years about this problem. Nobody was listening to what we have to say."

Mahony has done a lot on behalf of possible sexual abuse victims since he left the Stockton Diocese in 1985 to become archbishop of the Los Angeles Diocese, Tamberg said.

Mahony wrote the archdiocese's first policy on sexual abuse, which went into effect in 1987. In 1994, Mahony established a sexual abuse advisory board to monitor clergy abuse, Tamberg said.

Twelve of the 14 board members are lay people, he said. They include a clergy abuse victim and the parents of boys who were abused by a priest, Tamberg said.

Wednesday was the deadline for people whose cases would normally exceed the statute of limitations to file child sexual abuse lawsuits against priests, dioceses and other adults supervising children.

Senate Bill 1779, which Drivon wrote on behalf of State Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, lifted the statute of limitations for the 2003 calendar year only.

However, attorneys are filing class-action suits that would essentially allow alleged victims to continue filing lawsuits in 2004, Drivon said.

A class-action suit against a particular diocese would allow victims to sue together because there would be facts in common to all or some of the cases, Drivon said.

"There are still enormous number of victims out there who haven't got the information (about the opportunity to sue)," Drivon said. "Many of them moved out of state. Some of them are just not getting the word."

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