More than a year after they publicly told their story of being sexually molested by a San Jose priest, several former students at a local parochial school have gone to court saying that Roman Catholic Church officials could have prevented the abuse.
The latest in a wave of lawsuits was filed Friday by attorneys for five men and a woman who say they were molested in the 1970s by the Rev. Joseph Pritchard, a popular and respected pastor at St. Martin of Tours parish in San Jose. In recent months, attorneys for eight other former students at the St. Martin school have filed similar suits alleging abuse by Pritchard.
The group bringing the latest suit includes John Salberg and Mark Trillo, who were among the first alleged St. Martin victims to identify themselves publicly when they told their stories to the Mercury News last spring. The other four are identified in court papers as John Doe or Jane Doe; the latter is the first woman to allege that Pritchard molested her.
Salberg, 38, said last year that he wasn’t interested in suing the church. But he said Monday that he has been frustrated by church leaders’ response to the allegations and that he now believes that he and his family deserve to be compensated for the abuse he experienced as a boy.
“I still love the church,” he said. “But I’ve just found out so much about people who did know things back then and didn’t come forward.”
Pritchard, who was pastor at St. Martin parish from 1972-1979, died of cancer in 1988. Though members of one local family told the Mercury News they complained to church officials after Pritchard fondled their son in 1977, church officials have said there is no record of any complaints from that time.
There was no immediate comment on the lawsuit from officials at the Diocese of San Jose or the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which had jurisdiction over local Catholic churches in the years before the San Jose diocese was formed in 1981.
But a spokeswoman for San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath defended the bishop’s actions since the allegations against Pritchard were made last year. She said that McGrath met with Salberg and some other alleged victims shortly after the Mercury News first reported their story in April 2002.
“The bishop was quite moved by everything that he heard, and he was really committed to helping the victims,” said the spokeswoman, Roberta Ward.
The lawsuit focuses on events that occurred in the 1970s and alleges that unnamed church officials either knew or should have known about Pritchard’s behavior when he was serving as pastor at St. Martin.
In addition to citing the complaint that one family made in 1977, the lawsuit also alleges that the priest “had experienced problems of a deviant sexual nature” both at St. Martin parish “as well as in prior assignments within the Catholic church.”
Attorney Robert Tobin of San Jose, who filed the suit Friday along with attorneys Jean Starcevich and Robert L. Mezzetti II, declined to comment on that allegation.
The suit also alleges that the priest encouraged youngsters from the parish school to visit his living quarters, where he fondled the youths repeatedly over the years. In some cases, the suit says the priest would encourage the children to undress and lie down in his bed, where he would crawl in beside them and molest them.