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S.F., S.J. Dioceses Targeted

Jan 1, 2003 | Mercury News

It was an innocent remark during a friendly round of golf. But it hit Dennis Kavanaugh like a tidal wave, prompting him to finally step forward with his story of being molested by a trusted parish priest.

Attorneys for Kavanaugh, a 44-year-old salesman from San Jose, said they are filing a lawsuit this week against two Roman Catholic dioceses because of sexual abuse they say was committed by the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard, a popular and respected former pastor at St. Martin of Tours Parish in San Jose. A torrent of similar lawsuits is expected under a new law that takes effect today.

Kavanaugh, who was an altar boy at St. Martin's in the 1970s, said Tuesday that he has played golf for 30 years with a set of clubs that Pritchard gave him. In September, when a friend happened to comment on his old-fashioned clubs, Kavanaugh said it triggered a shock wave of feelings a conflicting whirl of guilt, shame and betrayal.

``I froze. I almost went limp,'' he said. ``Something that I thought I had put away long ago was back, and I didn't like the feeling.''

At a news conference Tuesday outside the St. Martin building, Kavanaugh told reporters Pritchard had repeatedly touched him in a sexual manner during an 18-month period from 1972 to 1973. The abuse stopped when the priest took Kavanaugh on a trip to New Orleans, and the 15-year-old boy decided it was time to take a stand.

``I told him this had to stop,'' Kavanaugh recalled, as his fiancee hugged him tightly. ``He and I had words. It didn't go well. The guilt and shame has lived with me from that day on.''

But Kavanaugh said he never told his family, friends, or former wife about the abuse until this year. Accusations of abuse against Pritchard first became public this spring, when a dozen former students of the St. Martin parish school told the Mercury News that the priest had fondled them.

Kavanaugh, who is a few years older than some of those men, said he only learned of the others this year. Today, he said, he feels guilty for not speaking out.

All the men said that shame and confusion had kept them from telling anyone about the alleged actions of a pastor who was well-liked and admired. Pritchard moved to St. Nicholas Church in Los Altos in 1979 and died in 1988.

``I viewed Father Pritchard as God on Earth,'' Kavanaugh said Tuesday. He said the abuse caused him to lose faith in his religion ``and I don't think that's fair. Something was taken from me that was extremely important to me.''

Kavanaugh was joined at his news conference by attorneys Richard Simons and David Drivon, who say they represent seven men allegedly abused by Pritchard. Kavanaugh is the only one who has publicly identified himself.

Drivon said the lawsuit will be filed Thursday against the Diocese of San Jose and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which was responsible for the St. Martin parish when Pritchard was pastor. An official of the San Jose diocese declined comment; a spokesman for the San Francisco archdiocese could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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