Church settles for $3 million

Woman raped by childhood priest

Mercury News/January 25, 2004

In a record-setting payment to a single victim of clergy abuse, the Roman Catholic Church has agreed to pay $3 million to a woman who was repeatedly raped by her childhood priest in Hayward.

Jennifer Chapin, 31, now an Oakdale psychiatric nurse, said she was about 6 years old when Msgr. George Francis began raping her over a four-year period. The brutal assaults included the use of ropes and religious objects. After the rapes, Chapin said that Francis would sprinkle holy water on her.

Francis, who died in 1998, was pastor of St. Bede Parish in Hayward during that time.

"The conduct was as abhorrent as you can possibly imagine,'' said Richard Simmons, one of Chapin's lawyers. "She is truly a survivor in the best sense of the word. After many years of struggle, she is, I think, on a path to healing. This was part of the process.''

The settlement reached Friday is believed to set a state record for the amount paid by a diocese to a single victim of clergy sexual abuse. The settlement is also among the first to resolve claims against priests under a state law that allowed victims to sue the church for sexual abuse that occurred decades ago.

"I'm very glad for her. For what she's been through and for the tremendous courage she's shown, she deserves every penny,'' Simmons said. "I'm disappointed that we didn't get to present all the evidence that allowed the mismanagement for not just this priest but several other serial molester priests to operate in the Oakland diocese.''

Simmons said she began facing her past when Francis died, and only then did she report it.

"This young woman has suffered terribly, and she deserves everything she received,'' Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the Oakland diocese, told the Los Angeles Times.

Last July, the Diocese of San Bernardino and a religious order agreed to pay $5.2 million to two brothers who accused a priest of molesting them.

Agreements for larger settlements against individual priests -- $26 million in a San Bernardino claim, and $16 million in an earlier Oakland case -- have been reached, but are not expected to be paid.

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