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  Suit Accuses Priest of Abuse; Man Says Dioceses Concealed Conduct

By Susan Gembrowski and Sandi Dolbee
San Diego Union-Tribune
September 6, 2002

A 40-year-old San Diego man filed a lawsuit yesterday accusing a retired Roman Catholic priest of abusing him decades ago at a Lakeside parish, and claiming that the San Diego and San Bernardino dioceses concealed criminal conduct.

At a news conference in downtown San Diego, attorney Raymond Boucher, one of several lawyers representing the man, said Roman Catholic authorities were aware of accusations that the Rev. Paul Gill had molested children here and did nothing about it.

Diocese officials in San Diego said earlier this week that there had been no allegations against Gill before this one, which it learned about in May.

Boucher also said he has filed about 100 claims in dioceses throughout the state and that the San Diego Diocese's response to allegations has been the worst in California.

"My gut tells me it is arrogance and a desire to continue to hide from the facts," the Beverly Hills attorney said. "It may well be fear."

The man, who filed the latest claim in San Diego Superior Court as "John Doe," said in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune that Gill began molesting him in the spring of 1977. It is the policy of the newspaper not to name people who say they have been sexually abused.

The man said the abuse continued throughout the summer months after Gill, who is now 69 and retired in Riverside County, transferred from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lakeside to St. Joan of Arc in Blythe.

The man did not tell his parents about the alleged abuse until March. They then notified the pastor of their Lakeside parish and the investigation began. The San Diego Diocese said this week that Gill's name is among those it has turned over to the District Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

Gill, who declined to be interviewed, has denied wrongdoing, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, where the retired priest served last. Lincoln said Gill has been temporarily prohibited from publicly celebrating the sacraments pending outcome of the investigation.

Boucher said more people have come forward with accusations about Gill, although he declined to elaborate.

Neither the San Diego nor the San Bernardino diocese would comment on the latest lawsuit.

At the news conference, Mark Brooks, local representative of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, read a statement from Gill's accuser: "It is regrettable that the current legal action needs to take place. The Catholic Church has failed in nurturing and protecting children entrusted to its care.

"I am pursuing legal action first to communicate to the church that it can no longer put up with sexual abuse of children by priests. Second, the priest in question needs to be prevented from having access to children and causing more harm," the statement said.

The claim does not list the defendants by name, but attorneys for the plaintiff said they include retired priest Gill and the San Diego and San Bernardino dioceses. In these types of childhood sexual abuse claims, it is standard procedure not to list defendants' names until the court rules the allegations have been corroborated, Boucher said. But that doesn't mean the lawyers can't talk about the cases and identify those being sued.

The revelations of sexual abuse in decades-old cases began in Boston earlier this year and have rippled across the country.

Yesterday's lawsuit is the third to be filed here in the past month -- and more are expected, according to attorneys handling them.

For the vast majority of priests who have not been accused of wrongdoing, the wave of litigation brings a flood of mixed feelings, from sadness to fear.

"The first feeling of most priests is a great deal of compassion for anyone who has ever been abused by a priest," said the Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, a Chicago-based organization representing more than 25,000 Roman Catholic priests in dioceses and religious orders.

They also feel sadness that any priest would do such a thing, and anger over guilt by association. "It seems as if any of us wearing a Roman collar is now suspected of some kind of horrible behavior," Silva said.

And, finally, many priests are feeling "very vulnerable," he said.

Silva said the federation is considering having a series of "strategy sessions" across the country.

Meanwhile, he said, "the one thing that sustained us through all of this is that the local parishioners have really been supportive of their priests and we are extremely grateful."

 
 

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