April 05, 2005

Victims testify about abuser priest in state's second civil suit

San Luis Obispo Tribune

Associated Press

HAYWARD, Calif. - A former altar boy on Tuesday recalled how a Catholic priest summoned him to his rectory on the premise of doing gardening work, but instead ordered him to his bedroom and molested him.

Tom Thatcher, now a 34-year-old maintenance worker from Lakewood, Fla., said the Rev. Robert Ponciroli pulled him close, told him to lift his shirt and then started tickling him. Before long, Thatcher, then about 9, was rolling around with the priest in bed, listening to him grunt and laugh, Thatcher testified during a civil trial stemming from his lawsuit against the Oakland Diocese.

"I felt like a little rag doll flopping around with him on the bed," Thatcher said, gasping and holding back tears as he recalled the incident from the early 1980s. "I remember thinking I didn't know why we were doing this. ... I honestly did not know what to do."

Thatcher and his brother, Bob, filed a civil lawsuit against the diocese, alleging its leaders were negligent in their supervision of Ponciroli, who is now 68 and has been removed from public ministry. They say they were abused when they were altar boys at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch.

The case is important because it is among the first of more than 750 civil lawsuits against Roman Catholic dioceses in California to go to trial since the state in 2002 temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for filing sex-abuse claims.

Posted by kshaw at April 5, 2005 03:19 PM