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Ex-Altar Boys Name Now-Dead Cleric

Apr 12, 2003 | UNION-TRIBUNE

Lawsuits against a now-deceased priest accused of molesting boys continue to pile up, including one that alleges the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego protected him.

The civil complaints allege a pattern of abuse by the late Monsignor William Kraft dating back to 1953 – two years after Kraft was ordained and extending over the next 26 years. Kraft died at the age of 75 in 2001 from complications of diabetes.

The first of the complaints was filed in January, another was filed last month and a third was filed this month in San Diego County Superior Court. They include allegations from former altar boys at three parishes in San Diego Blessed Sacrament, St. Therese and Good Shepherd.

In the Blessed Sacrament case, a man alleges he was molested at the church near San Diego State University over a period of three years until 1956. According to Orange County attorney John Manly, who filed all three lawsuits, Kraft took the boy on overnight trips, during which he got into his sleeping bag and molested him.

"I think he believed for years that he was the only one," Manly said of the alleged victim, who declined to be interviewed.

At St. Therese in Del Cerro, another man said he was abused for five years during the 1960s, beginning at age 11. In 1969, the lawsuit alleges, Kraft attempted to rape the boy in the church rectory. He told his parents, who confronted then-Bishop Francis Furey.

According to copies of letters obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the parents provided details to Furey about what happened to their son and asked for Kraft to be removed from the parish. The boy said he was working in the church rectory when Kraft molested him. He came home visibly shaken and afraid, his mother wrote in her letter to Furey.

1969 letter

The boy's father wrote in a letter dated May 30, 1969, "(My son) will forever have a scar in his good heart and mind.

"Father Kraft is a very sick man who needs immediate medical care," the father also wrote.

Kraft denied the allegations in a four-page letter to Furey on June 3, 1969. He wrote that the boy who accused him had a tendency to exaggerate and "build up in his mind certain suspicions and conclusions without foundation."

"Reports on claims such as this are easily made and difficult to respond to by one like myself who is innocent of any wrongdoing. It is most tragic that a priest must be brought to slaughter, his entire reputation and position ruined over such circumstantial and unfounded testimony," wrote Kraft.

He also threatened to take legal action "to vindicate my good name."

The packet of letters includes two from Furey, who was cordial to the family but noncommittal.

One informs the parents that Kraft has been notified of the allegations. The other thanks the father for meeting with him and for giving him a copy of a psychiatric consultation with his son, which the bishop said would "be kept in our confidential files."

According to a copy of a letter about the consultation, the doctor who examined the boy concluded that he was telling the truth and recommended that he avoid the parish.

Manly said Furey tried to intervene and use his influence to have the father, who was a Navy doctor, transferred out of the area.

'Clear evidence'

"We have clear evidence that the bishop met with my client's father's commanding officer, who was a one-star admiral, and attempted to have the family move out of San Diego," Manly said.
The father is dead. The mother and the alleged victim declined to be interviewed about the case. Furey left San Diego in 1969 to become archbishop of San Antonio, Texas, and died in 1979.

The lawsuit also says that Kraft's colleagues at the parish were aware of the misconduct, including a then-associate pastor who is now bishop of Reno, the Most Rev. Phillip Straling. Straling could not be reached for comment.

The family began attending another parish and Kraft was suddenly transferred to oversee Holy Cross Cemetery.

In 1970, under the late Bishop Leo Maher, Kraft was assigned as pastor of Good Shepherd in Mira Mesa.

The third lawsuit involves Kraft's stay at Good Shepherd, during which a man, now 42, alleges that he was abused from 1970 through 1979. The alleged victim said in the claim that he attempted suicide after he was forced to live with Kraft and "become his housekeeper/sex slave."

In an interview, the man, who is living out of state, said he was extremely upset when he learned that he was not the only person accusing Kraft of abuse.

"It begs the question 'Why,' " he said. "I keep asking the question over and over again. Why and why and why did they let this man do this, knowing what they knew?"

The lawsuits do not identify the victims, because they were minors at the time of the abuse. Two of the suits also don't yet formally name the diocese or other defendants, because they still need to go through a court process. The suit filed in January lists the bishop, the diocese, Kraft's estate and St. Therese as defendants.

Manly, who recently opened a Del Mar office, said he has seven more lawsuits he plans to file against the local diocese and Kraft's estate.

Two years ago, Manly settled a case with the diocese and Kraft's estate involving another allegation against the priest dating to the 1960s. The settlement was for $250,000.

$60,000 in funds

Kraft's tenure was marked with years of controversy, including an episode in 1978 when parishioners at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Point Loma accused him of mishandling about $60,000 in church funds.
Kraft was barred from practicing as a priest shortly before his death by Bishop Robert Brom.

Brom revealed last year that he took that action. He also said there was no record of any accusations in the priest's files when he became bishop of San Diego in 1990.

Monsignor Steven Callahan, former chancellor and now a vicar general for the diocese, said he rechecked Kraft's files again this week after being contacted about the letters between Furey and the boy's family.

"We don't have copies of the letters you are referring to," Callahan said.

Brom said last year that he was aware of the stories about Kraft when he became the fourth bishop of San Diego.

Among those stories was a report in 1988 in which a 27-year-old man, who was about to be sentenced for fleeing a work furlough program, told a court psychologist that Kraft had molested him when he was a boy.

Kraft denied the accusations and Maher accepted his denial.

In 1997, Brom learned directly of another accusation and restricted Kraft's post-retirement ministry to "occasional liturgical assistance in parishes of the diocese, always with the pastor present and never interfacing with minors alone."

Brom learned in August 2001 of another allegation of sexual abuse, in a case dating back to the 1960s. Brom prohibited the ailing Kraft "from any ministry whatsoever." Kraft died the next month.

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