April 05, 2005

Diocese officials plead ignorance

The Argus

By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER

HAYWARD Diocese of Oakland officials testified Monday that the church showed errors in judgment in handling a child-molesting priest.

Bishop Emeritus John Cummins, who led Alameda and Contra Costa counties' Roman Catholics from 1977 to 2003, acknowledged documents show his predecessor knew of allegations against the Rev. Robert Ponciroli in 1975, yet he did not learn of it until almost two decades later.

"I did not expect sexual abuse by priests to be a frequent occurrence," he testified, but he knows now that seven or eight priests abused children in his diocese during his tenure.

Earlier Monday, former diocese chancellor the Rev. Brian Joyce testified that although he chaired the diocese's clergy personnel committee from 1971 to 1979, he knew of no sexual complaints against Ponciroli only complaints of tickling and losing his temper with altar boys. He said he confronted Ponciroli on those matters but "in no way" suspected molestation.

"My focus was his anger and his intimidating young people," he said. "I was wrong."

Attorney Rick Simons displayed a May 1975, memo from then-Bishop Floyd Begin indicating Begin knew of sexual abuse claims against Ponciroli during his time at Richmond's St. Cornelius parish.

Posted by kshaw at April 5, 2005 08:09 AM