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Oakland Diocese, Priest To Pay Sex Abuse Victim

Nov 26, 2003 | San Jose Mercury News

The Diocese of Oakland has agreed to pay $1 million to a man who says he was sexually abused by a priest. The agreement was part of a civil settlement reached hours before a former bishop was scheduled to testify in court.

Robert Freitas, who has been barred from wearing clerical dress or celebrating Mass in public, also has agreed to pay the victim $16 million -- believed to be the largest judgment to an individual priest abuse victim but could be a symbolic sum because the priest may not be able to pay.

For years, Mark Bogdanowicz never told anyone about what happened at Santa Paula Catholic Church in Fremont. But on Tuesday, he spoke about the case before a scrum of television cameras in Oakland.

``It's not about the money,'' said an emotional Bogdanowicz. ``It's about accountability. If I can help one or two other people by coming forward, then I've done my job.''

Rebuilding life

Bogdanowicz, 39, is a gulf war veteran who lives with his parents in a Sacramento suburb. He said he plans to focus on getting his life back together and is planning a vacation in Hawaii with friends and family.

In December 2002, Freitas pleaded guilty to molesting Bogdanowicz, who was 15 when the abuse occurred in 1979. But his case was thrown out last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a California law that had extended the statute of limitations for child molestation.

Freitas' civil trial began in Oakland Superior Court earlier this month. Retired Bishop John S. Cummins was expected to testify Tuesday, but the settlement halted that process.

When the abuse scandal first exploded in the Catholic Church, the Oakland diocese said that it was reviewing at least 20 cases of sexual misconduct involving priests, including more than a dozen that involved children.

The Freitas settlement is the first to be reached among several lawsuits filed against the Oakland diocese this year. Church officials expect additional lawsuits may be filed before a legal deadline at the end of the year.

``We never doubted the complaint of Mr. Bogdanowicz,'' said Sister Barbara Flannery, the diocese chancellor and the official who coordinates assistance for sexual abuse victims. ``I'm happy for Mr. Bogdanowicz that there's been some resolution around that issue for him.''

Flannery said the money in the Freitas settlement will come from diocese insurance policies, except for $50,000 that the diocese will pay for counseling and therapy. Freitas' attorney could not be reached for comment.

Last year the California Province of the Society of Jesus agreed to pay $7.5 million to two kitchen workers who were sexually abused at a Jesuit retirement center in Los Gatos.

The Oakland diocese has earned a progressive reputation among abuse victims for its efforts to reach out to them and their families. In May 2002, the diocese kicked off ``No More Secrets,'' a public outreach campaign designed to end decades of denial.

Missing papers

But Larry Drivon, a Stockton attorney who has represented abuse victims for more than a decade, said that the Oakland diocese refused to hand over critical documents about Freitas' history.

``Oakland has evidenced some willingness to work with victims, but they fight to this day to protect the documents,'' Drivon said. ``They've made strides, but the coverup continues.''

Cummins, who retired last year, became bishop just before the time when Bogdanowicz was molested.

In addition to being unable to wear a clerical collar and celebrate Mass, Freitas cannot use the title of ``Father.'' But Drivon is outraged that Freitas remains a priest.

``He is still a priest,'' Flannery said, but ``there is no intention to ever return him to ministry.''


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