The Catholic Diocese of Stockton was ordered yesterday to pay $30 million to two brothers, one of whom is a student at the University of Washington, who were molested by a parish priest who had a history of abusing children.
A jury awarded $24 million in punitive damages and $6 million in compensatory damages to Joh and James Howard, who claimed the diocese and its leadership knew about the Rev. Oliver Francis O’Grady’s actions and did nothing.
Joh Howard, now 19, is a junior at the University of Washington, working toward a business degree.
“At first, it was numbing,” Howard said of the award. “It was a big, big verdict. . . . But then I felt ecstatic and relieved. This is something that’s been part of my whole life – the legal part of it for the last five years. This is a big vindication.”
The ruling comes less than a week after the Catholic Diocese of Dallas agreed to pay $23.4 million to nine former altar boys.
“We stand on the shoulders of what has happened before,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the Howards. “Combined with the cumulative impact, if they can’t understand this, they will never understand.”
Bishop Donald Montrose of Stockton issued a statement begging forgiveness of the Howard brothers.
“Nothing can undo this evil, but I pray that God will give them healing and peace,” he said. But he also expressed disappointment at the size of the damages, which he said would bankrupt the diocese.
A secretary for O’Grady’s attorneys said they could not immediately be reached for comment.
David Clohessy, director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the award is the largest per plaintiff in a case involving a religious institution.
“It’s an incredibly powerful statement . . . (that) says the abuse of kids has to stop and that puts the blame squarely where it belongs: on the hierarchy of the church,” he said.
The civil trial began in early June after O’Grady was convicted in 1994 of molesting Joh and James Howard, now 23. He is serving a 14-year prison term.
O’Grady and his supervisor, the Rev. Cornelius DeGroot, signed two letters in 1976 apologizing to the parents of an 11-year-old girl after O’Grady allegedly touched her inappropriately.
In a deposition, O’Grady testified that former Stockton Diocese Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle didn’t order him to seek counseling after the 1976 incident and seemed angry that he had apologized.
When police began their own investigation in 1984, O’Grady was receiving counseling, church officials said. According to a police report, the diocese told authorities O’Grady would be transferred and would only be working with adults.
In 1985, O’Grady was appointed pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in San Andreas. A year later, the diocese appointed him associate pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Turlock, where he met the Howards.
Joh Howard said his decision to speak out was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
But “we’re trying to promote openness and awareness. . . . What’s bigger and more important than me is the message: That the church does this, has done this and there are people like this – child molesters in the church – and the church has protected them to the destruction of many children. And ending the secrecy.”
Joh Howard, who is in Stockton for the verdict, plans to return to Seattle in a few days to resume his summer-school classes at the UW. He said he hasn’t made any plans for the money yet.
“To me, it’s Monopoly money – it’s not real because so many things have to happen, so many legal steps still,” he said.
But two organizations stand out in his mind as possible recipients for donations: Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Mark McGwire Foundation for Abused and Neglected Children.