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Lawsuit: Dioceses Hid Priest Abuse

May 1, 2002 | AP

A priest convicted of sexual misconduct in Milwaukee in 1973 was transferred to California, where he molested an 8-year-old boy, a lawsuit claims.

The suit says the Milwaukee archdiocese and the Orange County diocese covered up molestations and continued to regard the Rev. Sigfried Widera "as a Catholic priest who could be trusted with minor parishioners and minor students."

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."

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.

Paino said he only recently filed a police report on the alleged molestation. Prosecutors rejected criminal charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

Widera was relieved of his duties in 1985 amid allegations he had sexually abused boys, Schinderle said. He was placed in a treatment program.

Widera is believed to be living in Arizona. Efforts to contact him by phone were unsuccessful.

In other developments Tuesday:

Twenty-six 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.

Seven men sued the Archdiocese of Louisville, claiming they were sexually abused as children by priests two decades ago or before. The men claim the archdiocese knew three priests engaged in a pattern of sexually abusing children. Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said they had not seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment.

In Ohio, the Diocese of Columbus pledged to share allegations of sexual misconduct with authorities and remove a priest after one substantiated case.

A chaplain at a Catholic hospital in St. Louis resigned after the Illinois diocese that recommended him for the job revealed he was accused of sexually abusing a minor years earlier, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said

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