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Oakland Diocese Reports Sex Allegations

Apr 16, 2002 | CONTRA COSTA TIMES As the Oakland diocese of the Roman Catholic Church urges victims of sexual abuse to come forward, it has reported to law enforcement officials allegations against two East Bay priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

Parishioners next month will see the work of a new group, the Ministry of Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse, heralded by posters and brochures with the slogan, "No More Secrets."

Sister Barbara Flannery, Chancellor of the Oakland Diocese, has worked with four survivors of clergy sexual abuse on the campaign, which urges other victims to come forward and offers a network of support for discussing the incidents.

"This is a very traumatizing and humiliating experience," Flannery said. "A lot of people cannot come out on their own."

The campaign kicks off May 5 with a ceremony at the Diocesan Youth Retreat Center in Lafayette.

Meanwhile, police in Antioch are investigating a former priest alleged to have sexually abused a minor 22 to 23 years ago, said Antioch police Lt. Pat Welch.

Police have talked to the alleged victim, who lives out of state, but have not made contact with the former priest.

"It hasn't really gone anywhere past being reported," Welch said. "We're attempting to get in contact with everyone involved."

Flannery declined to give details about the case.

The priest no longer serves in the ministry.

Flannery said she notified Antioch police after receiving a complaint. An abuse allegation against a second priest was referred to law enforcement officials, though Flannery would not say in which city that priest served.

The diocese's responsibility in cases of abuse, Flannery said, is to report any allegations to the police.

"It's not the diocese's role to determine whether this is a crime. That's the role of law enforcement. Some of these cases may go forward and some of them may not," she said.

A third case involving a priest under the jurisdiction of the Oakland Diocese was made public last week when police arrested the Rev. Robert E. Freitas, a pastor in Fremont, on charges he sexually abused a teen-ager in 1979.

As the number of cases has grown -- the Oakland Diocese is reviewing more than a dozen cases that involve allegations of child sexual abuse -- its campaign to work with survivors may make it an example for others in the country, some parishioners said.

"It takes the whole hierarchy of the church to acknowledge it and deal with it," said Marlis Sender of Orinda, a survivor of abuse who helped organize the effort.

The group will provide an e-mail address and phone hotline for victims of priestly abuse to report their cases. Survivors of abuse will field the calls and e-mail inquiries.

Providing support is the program's primary goal, Sender said. The network is also designed to educate the church on the experience of victims and to help alert the diocese to alleged offenders.

Organizing the campaign, Sender said, has helped her deal with her case of abuse, which occurred years ago in San Antonio, Texas.

"It's a place where I can direct my energy, where I can help educate the church and help fellow survivors," she said.

The program is unprecedented, said Terrie Light, a survivor who helped organize the group, and who is the Northwest regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

It's been in the works for two years, since the diocese, which includes Contra Costa and Alameda counties, held an apology service for victims of abuse by priests.

The diocese conducted a review in 1995 of all cases involving allegations of sexual abuse, which led to the removal of two priests.

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