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Alleged Victims Suing Priests

Accused clergy are being taken to civil court on molestation charges

Jul 4, 2003 | Tri-Valley Herald

Last week's Supreme Court ruling voiding the California law that allowed prosecutions for long-ago child molestations has done nothing to stem the tide of civil lawsuits alleging such abuses.

The plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court a 48-year-old Contra Costa County man exercising his legal right to remain anonymous claims he was molested by the Rev. Steve Whelan in the late 1960s and early 1970s at Salesian High School in Richmond. The lawsuit also accuses the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, the school and several other priests at the school of conspiring to conceal the abuse.

Whelan, now an associate pastor at Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco's North Beach, declined comment Thursday.

A 35-year-old Midwestern woman is about to file a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court claiming that for several years starting in 1983, when she was 16, she was repeatedly sexually abused by a priest in Antioch. Attorney Dave Drivon of Stockton said he tried to file the lawsuit this week, but the clerk's office was closed early due to budget cuts.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled California had acted unconstitutionally by retroactively applying a 1994 law that allows criminal prosecution of child molesters within a year after the abuse is reported to police, no matter how long after the crime the report is made. The ruling basically means child sex crimes alleged to have been committed beyond the statute of limitations when the law took effect essentially before 1988 now can't be prosecuted.

So prosecutors have been dropping many of the cases they'd filed under the now-voided law, including cases against clergy members.

For example, 13 of 15 charges against former Fremont and Pinole priest Stephen Kiesle are too old to pursue. Attorneys for former Fremont priest Robert Freitas and former Healdsburg priest Donald Kimball are seeking to have their plea-bargained convictions voided. And former San Francisco Monsignor Patrick O'Shea was released from jail on his own recognizance Monday; the 244 child molestation counts against him are likely to be dismissed later this month.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse gathered for an hourlong vigil Thursday evening outside San Francisco's Hall of Justice on Bryant Street, passing out leaflets urging victims to continue reporting their abuse to law enforcement despite the Supreme Court ruling.

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