San Francisco prosecutors’ all-but-moribund effort to prosecute a prominent defrocked priest on child molestation charges was revived Friday when a grand jury indicted former Monsignor Patrick O’Shea for allegedly abusing a onetime altar boy.
O’Shea, 69, surrendered to prosecutors Friday evening at the Hall of Justice and was held on $5 million bail in San Francisco
County Jail. He was expected to be arraigned Monday.
O’Shea is no stranger to the jail — he spent two years there waiting to be brought to trial on earlier charges that he molested nine former altar boys when he was a priest at Roman Catholic churches in the San Francisco archdiocese. That case fell apart earlier this year when the courts ruled that prosecutors hadn’t brought the charges before the statute of limitations expired, and O’Shea was freed.
The 22-count indictment unsealed Friday is based on testimony from a man in his mid-40s who had not come forward until this year. The man told the grand jury that he had been molested by O’Shea starting in 1968, when he was 11 years old, prosecutors said.
TRIPS TO LAKE BERRYESSA
The man testified that O’Shea had molested him when he was an altar boy at Mission Dolores Basilica and a student at the parochial school there. The molestations happened from 1968 to 1970 on trips to Lake Berryessa, where the priest owned a cabin, the man testified.
The man, whom authorities did not identify, contacted prosecutors after learning that the archdiocese had handed over information about sexual abuse allegations against priests dating back 75 years, investigators said. District Attorney Terence Hallinan asked for the files in March after prosecutors in several other cities made similar requests.
Officials said the files included information on 40 living priests and lay employees. The name of O’Shea’s alleged victim, however, was not in archdiocese records, investigators said.
CHARGED WITH 22 ACTS
“I’m happy that we finally got this under way,” Hallinan said of the indictment, which charges O’Shea with 22 acts of molestation and lewd conduct. If convicted of all counts, the former priest could face a 66-year state prison term.
O’Shea served in local churches for 36 years starting in 1958, and for many years was pastor at St. Cecilia’s parish in San Francisco’s Parkside district. He was also director of the San Francisco Society of the Propagation of the Faith, which supports the church’s missionary work, and once headed an outreach program to the gay and lesbian community. He was defrocked in 1994, after accusations arose.
Steve Scherr, O’Shea’s attorney, accompanied his client when he surrendered Friday. The former priest declined to comment.
“Monsignor O’Shea is an honorable man,” Scherr said. “When we learned today that there was a warrant out, he came down to surrender. We’ll face the charges when we learn more about what they are.”
James Collins, another attorney for O’Shea, said his client has always maintained his innocence. “After all these years, one new charge needs to be viewed with suspicion and caution,” Collins said.
ALLEGED VICTIM ASHAMED
David Mattingly, the attorney for O’Shea’s accuser, said his client hadn’t come forward before because he was fearful and ashamed.
“I think it’s fair to say, my client believes that justice is being properly served,” Mattingly said. “He has been afraid to come forward because of his own humiliation about it for a long time, for fear of reprisal.”
The indictment is the latest legal problem for O’Shea, who was freed after the state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that prosecutors had waited too long to file their earlier molestation case.
The O’Shea matter became ensnarled in a dispute between the courts and state Legislature over a 1994 law that allowed prosecutors to bring molestation cases after the six-year statute of limitations had lapsed, as long as charges were filed within a year after alleged victims came forward.
O’Shea was first charged with 16 counts under that law in 1995. Prosecutors said that from 1964 to 1980, O’Shea molested nine boys and teenagers at Mission Dolores, Most Holy Redeemer and Holy Names parishes, on Squaw Valley ski trips and at drunken parties at Lake Berryessa.
The case was dismissed in 1997, however, after the courts tossed out key provisions of the state law.
In 1998, the Legislature passed another statute, enabling San Francisco prosecutors to take another run at O’Shea. Two years later, prosecutors obtained a 200-count indictment against O’Shea that covered the abuse allegations in the earlier case.
The 2000 indictment was undermined by the state Supreme Court ruling this year that prosecutors had missed their deadline for filing charges. O’Shea was released and the charges were dismissed in March.
O’Shea has also been charged separately with embezzling at least $250,000 in donations from nuns and parishioners and spending the money on a home in Indian Wells in the Mojave Desert. However, the case has not been vigorously prosecuted.