A retired priest who 25 years ago was associate pastor of a Lakeside parish is the latest to be accused of molesting a minor in the expanding allegations against the Roman Catholic Church.
The San Diego Diocese confirmed yesterday that the Rev. Paul Gill was among the first group of 23 names of Catholic priests turned over in June to the District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.
In addition, the San Bernardino Diocese, where Gill has served since the late 1970s, said this week that Gill has been temporarily barred from public ministry pending the outcome of a criminal investigation by authorities.
And today, the man who is accusing Gill of molesting him as a minor is expected to file a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court, said his attorney, Jeffery Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer known nationally for representing alleged victims in such cases.
The investigation was set in motion a few months ago when the man finally told his parents of the alleged abuse, which he said occurred when he was a teen-ager at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lakeside. He revealed a secret he had kept from them for decades. Then, in an unusual move, the parents reported it to their parish pastor and demanded action.
“I’m good and angry,” said the mother, who has been a Catholic all her life and said she has no plans to change that. “I’m betrayed. I want the windows open and I want the vermin out. . . . I want my church the way it was before it was dirty and sullied. I want my clean church back again.”
It is the policy of the Union-Tribune not to identify people who say they have been sexually abused. The man’s parents also asked not to be named.
Gill, who was ordained in 1966 and retired in 1998, has denied any wrongdoing, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese. Lincoln said the 69-year-old priest won’t be allowed to publicly celebrate the sacraments, including saying Mass, until the investigation is resolved.
Gill refused to be interviewed.
“I do not want to answer anything,” he said through the sliding-glass door of his mobile home in the north Riverside County town of Cherry Valley. “I’m not talking to anyone.”
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department would not comment, but Gill’s accuser said a detective interviewed him this week and assured him they would be “fully investigating” the case.
The lawsuit would be the third one filed in the past month that accuses a priest in this diocese of sexually abusing a minor. In addition, one other retired priest has been barred from public ministry here after admitting he molested minors years ago.
For the man who is filing this latest lawsuit, the memories bring back a dark time when, he said, he simply did not know what to do.
“You’re talking about a priest,” he said. ” This is a person who is representing God, literally.”
They say a mother knows when her children are suffering. And this mother knew something was wrong when her teen-age son returned from a trip with a priest.
But the son shrugged it off.
Time passed and earlier this year, she and her husband began noticing news reports of Catholic priests molesting minors in decades-old cases.
In March, as their now-grown son sat in the living room of their East County home, the mother asked him point-blank about what happened: “Did Father Gill do something when you were on vacation?”
His eyes were trained on the carpet. Finally, he looked up and nodded.
The incidents began in the spring of 1977, when he was 14, according to the man, who lives in San Diego.
He said the molestation continued that summer when he visited Gill at St. Joan of Arc Church in Blythe, where Gill had been transferred. The alleged molestations culminated on a cross-country drive to New Hampshire to see Gill’s mother.
“He said I was evil,” said the man. “Nobody has ever said that to me. Nobody since and nobody before him.”
When the abuse happened, he felt he couldn’t tell anyone. “I was so totally ashamed. I thought I must be wrong, I must be terrible.”
The former altar boy drifted from the pews. “I felt condemned,” he said.
Why did he finally tell his parents? “It was time,” he said.
The parents stood by their son – and are standing by the church that has been their whole life.
“I am not angry at the church because I am the church,” the mother said. “I am not angry at its people. I am angry at one person and the powers that be who don’t want to look at it.”
The parents say their feelings swing from guilt to anger.
“Nobody does that to my kid,” said the mother. “Nobody gets away with it.”
While Gill refused to be interviewed by the Union-Tribune, the spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese said the retired priest told him earlier this week that the accusations were not true.
“Father Gill says that he did take the purported victim to New Hampshire and they did sleep in the back of his van,” Lincoln said Tuesday. “Father Gill says that he exercised very poor judgment in doing this, that it was imprudent, ill-advised, that it was a terrible error in judgment.
“However, Father Gill says there was never any sexual intent in the sleeping arrangement and that he never inappropriately or immodestly touched the individual.”
According to diocese records, Gill served at the Lakeside parish from 1971 to 1977, when he was sent to Blythe. He became part of the San Bernardino Diocese when it split from the San Diego Diocese in 1978.
Since June, in keeping with a new national zero-tolerance policy, the San Diego Diocese has turned over the names of more than two dozen priests to the district attorney. Gill’s name is one of only a few that have been made public.
“We entrusted our child to him,” said the mother about Gill. “And he betrayed us.”