Four men who last year recounted childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Felton priest have filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Church.
The suit alleges church officials should have known that the Rev. Patrick McHugh, now deceased, was a threat to the plaintiffs when they served as altar boys at St. John’s church in the 1960s.
The church “absolutely” should have done more to protect the boys, said Jean Starcevich, one of three attorneys who filed the suit last week, seeking $10 million in damages for emotional distress and other wrongdoing.
Santa Cruz resident Kim Allyn, 50, a veteran county sheriff’s deputy, Robert “Jerry” Crow of Felton, William Collins of San Jose and a fourth unidentified man are plaintiffs in the suit.
The men told their story to the Sentinel in June, but filed suit only now because of a new state law that temporarily suspends the statute of limitations in light of rising church molestation allegations.
Officials at the Diocese of Monterey had not seen the lawsuit Saturday, but said they have been in conversation with the plaintiffsâ€™ legal team since last summer and were taking steps to address the issue.
“It’s unfortunate that the lawsuit was filed before this process could come to fruition,” said diocese spokesman Kevin Drabinski.
Drabinski said he could not comment on the case before seeing the suit.
Until this week, Allyn had not publicly identified himself as one of the victims. He said he decided to do so in hopes of making it easier for others and because it came up during his marriage counseling.
“It’s a huge risk to my reputation, my manhood and everything I’ve ever stood for,” he said. “But I hope it makes others more comfortable speaking out, and I thank God somebody is starting to listen.”
An award-winning body builder, Allyn said he tried to return to the Catholic Church but could not. He said he suffered depression and other ills from the molestation.
“Having to go through this now, it’s kind of like I would like to pray to God, but what God do I have?” he said.
Allyn was a spiritual 11-year-old when he served as an altar boy, an honor in 1960s small-town Felton. He said McHugh was a family friend.
In what he calls a betrayal by the church and the adult world that was supposed to protect him, Allyn said he told his father of McHugh’s actions, but his dad believed McHugh’s contrary explanations.
He said his friend’s father also did not believe the allegations.
“They did nothing. It was a stacked deck, and it brought a sense of embarrassment and shame,” he said. “(McHugh) couldn’t have violated our trust more than he did. Priests represent Jesus Christ on earth and there he was molesting altar boys.”
Crow publicly discussed his experiences last year amid the growing number of molestation allegations against the Catholic Church.
The Rev. Mark Stetz, pastor of Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz and director of priestly life for the Diocese of Monterey, said the diocese wants to hear about allegations of abuse by priests, whether it was last week or 40 years ago.
“Regarding something 40 years old, I honestly don’t know what to say, but it could make sense to sue,” he said. “If people have these charges, they need to be heard. If someone suffered something at any point, we want to help in the healing process.”
Stetz said the resignation last month of Charles G. Fatooh, a top administrative priest in the diocese, after he was associated with a priest accused of molestation, shows the issue is now taken very seriously and dealt with openly.
Allyn said he doesn’t know if the church has improved.
“I’m so gun shy of the whole thing, I just don’t know,” he said.
McHugh died in 1979 at the age of 65, suffering a heart attack.
Though McHugh is not named in the lawsuit, the plaintiffs provided his name to the Sentinel.
The Irish-born priest was 29 when he was ordained. He served his first assignment at St. John’s Cathedral in Fresno in 1943.
Until the late 1960s, Santa Cruz County churches were part of the Diocese of Fresno, Stetz said.
McHugh worked between parishes in the Central Valley for nearly two decades, with stints in Hanford and the Merced County town of Hilmar.
Church records are unclear about when exactly McHugh moved to Felton.
Parishioners at St. John’s in Felton recall that it was the hot inland summers that drove McHugh to the coast.
A Fresno Diocese spokesman told the Sentinel last year that McHugh’s relocation would not be discussed by the church, nor would his personal matters be revealed.