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Sex Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Santa Rosa Diocese

Oct 30, 2002 | AP

An alleged sex abuse victim has sued the Santa Rosa Diocese for allegedly concealing her relationship 20 years ago with an inactive priest.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Sonoma County court by Roberta Saum, now 41, identifies no defendants by name. Saum's lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, said it's aimed at the Rev. Donald Kimball, the diocese and its current and past leaders.

``I would hope that the church gets the message finally that this needs to stop,'' said Saum, a Hewlett-Packard software engineer who lives in the Sierra foothills town of Gold Run.

Her attorneys, who have handled hundreds of high-profile cases that have cost the church more than $70 million, said they have identified 12 other victims of abuse by Kimball who are not part of this lawsuit. If they file suit, the cases ultimately could lead to tens of millions of dollars in new damages against the Santa Rosa Diocese, they said.

``Our message is to survivors,'' Anderson said. ``You now have a chance to do something. Use the legal system to hold the diocese of Santa Rosa accountable.''

The diocese paid $1.6 million to settle a 2000 civil lawsuit against Kimball, once a nationally known minister and radio personality who was sentenced in June to a seven-year prison sentence for molesting Ellen Brem, then 13, at a Healdsburg church rectory in 1981.

Saum's suit says the alleged abuse by Kimball lasted from 1976 to 1982. Saum testified during Kimball's trial that she and Kimball began their affair when she was a troubled 15 year old living in a foster home. Kimball was a popular youth minister.

Another of her attorneys, Larry Drivon of Stockton, said he's confident they will prove diocese officials knew Kimball was an abuser in the early 1970s, before the molestation that this year resulted in Kimball's conviction and prison sentence.

``Of course, it's disappointing. It's disruptive,'' diocese spokeswoman Deirdre Frontczak said of the lawsuit. But she added Bishop Daniel Walsh has urged victims of sexual abuse to report crimes to police.

``The bishop has made very clear his intention is to clean house,'' including resolving all old cases, Frontczak said.

The Santa Rosa Diocese has paid $7.4 million to about 40 victims of four former priests, including Kimball and former Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, Frontczak said.

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