Priest Stands Trial on Sex Charges

Associated Press/April 1, 2002

Healdsburg, Calif. -- Roman Catholic parishioners in this bucolic northern California town are reeling as a priest stands trial on 20-year-old sexual abuse charges.

The Rev. Don Kimball, who worked at St. John the Baptist Church in the early 1980s, has been on trial for rape and lewd conduct. He is being tried now, more than two decades after the alleged crimes, because of recent changes in state law that extended the statute of limitations for sex crimes involving children under 14.

Kimball's trial is part of a nationwide effort to punish abuse that in some cases goes back decades. Pastors are vowing the church no longer will brush aside its problem priests, or quietly transfer them to unsuspecting parishes as the Santa Rosa diocese did with Kimball.

The diocese, in an effort to allay members' concerns, prepared a written statement for distribution on Easter Sunday in which it pledged it would strictly enforce a policy of no tolerance of sexual misconduct by a priest or any church worker.

"We state unequivocally that this diocese is committed to a prompt and decisive course of action in response to any and all such allegations,'' the three-page statement said.

But for some parishioners it was too little, too late.

"Most intelligent people don't want the priest or the pope making decisions about how to proceed,'' lifelong parishioner Richard Catelli said before Good Friday services. "You go to the police immediately. You don't ask permission from the bishop. You don't go to Rome. All these procedures are baloney.''

Former Santa Rosa bishop John Steinbock testified during Kimball's trial that he offered Kimball an assignment in a jail or hospital after Kimball admitted fondling six teen-agers. Kimball was suspended when he refused reassignment. He remains a priest, but does not administer the sacraments.

The Rev. Thomas Devereaux, current pastor at St. John's, says church secrecy and attempts to solve problems internally are things of the past.

"This is an awful thing to have happen in a church,'' he said Friday. "This is not how clergy should behave. This is not how to build trust.''

Devereaux said he's been open and honest with his 1,400 parish families since the sex scandals erupted.

"I didn't hide behind anyone or anything,'' he said, adding that he has addressed the topic during his sermons and held meetings after Mass.

The diocese, which covers six Northern California counties and has spent $7.4 million settling sex abuse claims, has struggled with revelations of priest misconduct that led to one priest's suicide and imprisonment of another priest who founded a church camp.

Nevertheless, Jon Jones, a pastoral associate at St. John's, believes upheaval within the church could have positive effects.

"We have a congregation that's demanding accountability,'' he said. "It helps the congregation achieve a sense of ownership that they are the church. In light of the scandals, we're all in this together.''

Meanwhile, the archdiocese of Los Angeles said Monday that a $1.2 million settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by a woman against the Orange diocese and the archdiocese for alleged sex abuse by a priest.

Most of the settlement will be paid by the Orange diocese, it said.

Lori Capobianco Haigh claimed the Rev. John Lenihan, formerly of St. Edward Church in Dana Point, abused her between 1978 and 1982, a news release from the archdiocese said.

The woman claimed Lenihan impregnated her when she was 16 and first sexually assaulted her in 1979 when she was 14, her lawyer said in a news release. The release did not state whether she gave birth.

Lenihan, 56, resigned last year after admitting he had sexual relationships over the years with several women and teen-age girls

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