Suit: Convicted priest reassigned

Priest allegedly moved to California, then molested 8-year-old

NBC, MSNBC and News Services/April 30, 2002

The suit, filed Monday on behalf of Eric Paino, alleges sexual abuse, conspiracy, fraud and negligence. It seeks unspecified damages.

"They swept me under the carpet," Paino, a 25-year-old truck driver, said Tuesday. "It's something you live with every day."

The suit is the latest in a flurry of litigation alleging Roman Catholic dioceses shuffled priests suspected of sexual abuse from parish to parish, keeping misconduct secret and trying to shield the church from scandal.

The Diocese of Orange had not seen Paino's suit and could not comment on it specifically, spokeswoman Maria Schinderle said.

But "in 1976, it was believed that under treatment and with counseling, that he would not pose a risk," she said. "That was the general belief at the time. There was no conspiracy."

Not Told of Conviction

She said the diocese was not told about Widera's conviction when he was transferred. The Milwaukee archdiocese had said only that the priest had a "moral problem having to do with a boy," she said.

Milwaukee archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said he could not comment on the suit because church officials had not seen it.

Widera was convicted in 1973 of sexual misconduct with a boy and placed on three years of probation. Paino alleges he was molested 12 years later, while Widera was assigned to a Yorba Linda church.

Widera was relieved of his duties in 1985 amid allegations he had sexually abused boys, Schinderle said. He was placed in a treatment program. He is now believed to be living in Arizona.

26 Join Boston Suit

Also Tuesday, 26 men from four parishes have joined a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Boston, alleging they were sexually abused as children by a priest known for his flashy black convertible, according to attorney Robert Sherman. The suit alleges that after parents told church officials about the Rev. Joseph Birmingham, who died in 1989, he was moved to another parish. Tuesday's amendment brings to 40 the number of plaintiffs.

In a related development, the Roman Catholic parish where Birmingham allegedly molested children has decided not to take part in two major archdiocese fund-raisers, a move that some observers say represents a rebuff of Cardinal Bernard Law.

In a letter published in the church bulletin last weekend, the Rev. Albert L. Capone said he cannot "comprehend why the Archdiocese of Boston is not doing more in response to the needs of the victims of sexual abuse by priests."

He said St. Michael parish in Lowell would not participate in Law's annual appeal or the Promise for Tomorrow campaign and would instead concentrate on tending to the needs of alleged victims of Birmingham.

'A Mutiny By Priests'

Robert Sherman, an attorney representing alleged victims of Birmingham, said there is "a mutiny by priests against the cardinal.

"I think it shows that the cardinal has not only lost support from the lay public and lost support from the lay Catholic leadership, he is now losing support from within his own ranks," Sherman said.

A call to Capone was not immediately returned Monday.

Law has been under intense scrutiny since it was learned in January that Archdiocese of Boston had shuttled now-defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite repeated allegations that he was a pedophile.

Since then, his actions in regard to other priests accused of molestation, including Birmingham and the Rev. Paul Shanley, have been questioned.

Law is under pressure to resign his post, and Capone's refusal to participate in the fund-raiser may represent a serious erosion of support for the cardinal.

Meanwhile, the Geoghan case continued to add to the pressure on Law.

The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that at least three members of the Archdiocese of Boston's 15-member financial advisory committee are balking at the multimillion dollar tentative agreement with the 86 victims of Geoghan.

The newspaper said the committee members will urge Law on Thursday to abandon the agreement - between $15 million and $30 million - because of the diocese's fragile financial condition, and the prospect that other victims will come forward.

The Boston archdiocese already is expected to pay out $70 million to $80 million to settle sexual abuse claims since 1992, not counting any new victims making claims.

Law's Legal Response Assailed

On Monday Law came under new criticism for asserting that "negligence" by a boy and his parents contributed to alleged abuse.

In his first legal response to charges that Shanley began molesting a boy when he was 6 years old, Law said: "The negligence of the plaintiffs contributed to cause the injury or damage."

In a six-page response to the lawsuit, an attorney for Law said any damages against Law "should be reduced in proportion to the said negligence of the plaintiffs."

The parents of the boy, who was allegedly abused by Shanley between 1983 and 1989, were furious.

"To say my son is legally responsible for his own abuse at the hands of this monster Shanley when my son was only 6 years old is horrific," Gregory Ford's father, Rodney Ford, told the Boston Globe. In the lawsuit, the Fords charge that Law was negligent in overseeing Shanley, who he knew, or should have known, was a danger to children.

Law: No Changes Until June

In his first address to his archdiocese since returning from a summit at the Vatican, Law said nothing would be decided on the volatile issue until the nation's bishops met in Dallas.

"The conference itself will make its own decision in June," Law said at the beginning of Mass at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross. "We will do what we can in June."

Law also called for a special day of prayer about the sexual abuse crisis, to be held during the Pentecost celebrations, which start May 10.

Other Developments

In New York, Cardinal Edward Egan and hundreds of priests met Monday to discuss the crisis - much like the cardinals did last week during an unprecedented meeting with the pope.

After a speech by Egan, some 500 priests broke into small groups. Priests said Egan met with the groups and answered their concerns.

New York Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling would not say what the priests discussed with Egan during the private, four-hour meeting. He said the message was "to let them know what was happening ... they read things, they see things and they don't have an opportunity to ask the cardinal directly what's going on."

Brooklyn's district attorney has forged an agreement with the Brooklyn diocese to have all reported allegations of sexual abuse by priests sent to prosecutors without prior screening by the church. District Attorney Charles Hynes called it a "groundbreaking agreement."

Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, leader of the nation's largest archdiocese, was sued under a federal racketeering law for allegedly covering up past sexual abuses by priests. It is at least the third time in the last two months that a Catholic leader has been accused under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, which is normally used in mob cases.

The lawsuit also names the bishops of all 194 U.S. dioceses. The plaintiff's attorney, Jeffrey Anderson, said the dioceses maintained secret files of "scandalous material" including evidence of abusive priests.

In Ohio, Columbus Bishop James A. Griffin said priests now will be barred from the ministry if they are found guilty of any sexual abuse. He said it's a shift from earlier policies in which some priests were sent away for treatment.

In Bridgeport, Conn., two priests have resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, Bridgeport Bishop William Lori said.

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