March 29, 2005

Trial begins in case of boys who accuse priest of molestation

Mercury News

Associated Press

HAYWARD, Calif. - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland practiced a policy of secrecy, negligence and disregard for children's safety that led to the sexual abuse of two altar boys more than 20 years ago, a plaintiffs' attorney argued at the start of a civil trial that could influence hundreds of similar cases throughout California.

"This was not an isolated incident," attorney Rick Simons told jurors Monday during opening statements. He said the diocese gave the Rev. Robert Ponciroli "the opportunity and green light for sexual molestation and abuse of children with actual knowledge of his history and knowing disregard of their safety."

The case, which involves two former Antioch altar boys suing the Oakland diocese, stems from one of more than 750 lawsuits that have been filed against Catholic dioceses in California since a 2002 state law temporarily lifted the statue of limitations on decades-old claims of sexual abuse by priests.

The case of brothers Bob and Tom Thatcher is the second lawsuit to go to trial, and the first that seeks punitive damages that could substantially raise the amount of money cash-strapped dioceses must pay to victims. Negotiations for settlements continue for more than 150 other sexual abuse lawsuits filed in Northern California.

Posted by kshaw at March 29, 2005 05:21 AM