Blah! there so much proof its almost overwheming.
Church is accused of 'betrayal of trust'
East Bay trial starts in case of alleged abuse of 2 brothers
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Roman Catholic Church leaders in the East Bay showed "knowing disregard" for the safety of children by transferring a known pedophile priest from parish to parish in the 1970s, a plaintiffs attorney said Monday at the start of a trial in Hayward that could influence the outcomes of hundreds of similar cases throughout California.
The Diocese of Oakland's failure to control the "compulsive sexual rituals" of the Rev. Robert Ponciroli severely damaged the lives of two former Antioch altar boys, Bob and Tom Thatcher, attorney Rick Simons said in his opening statement.
"This betrayal of trust took away their faith," Simons told the jury.
The Thatcher brothers, who served as altar boys under Ponciroli at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch, are seeking unspecified damages against Bishop Allen Vigneron, the current leader of Roman Catholics in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Their lawsuit is the second case to face a jury among hundreds of lawsuits filed against Catholic dioceses across California. The suits were made possible under a 2002 state law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on damages claims against organizations that gave known child molesters access to more victims.
Last week, a San Francisco jury issued a $437,000 verdict against the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the first of those abuse claims to reach a jury.
Over the weekend, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton reportedly agreed to pay $3.6 million to settle claims by two victims molested by a Lodi priest who was later deported to Ireland.
The two unidentified victims are now in their 40s. They were 11 and 12 years old when they were molested by the Rev. Oliver O'Grady at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Lodi.
O'Grady was convicted in 1993 of molesting the boys and served seven years in prison before he was deported.
The Thatcher case now under way in Hayward could be particularly costly for the church because the judge in that case, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Allen Sheppard, has allowed the jury to consider awarding punitive damages to Bob Thatcher.
Church attorney Allen Ruby told the jury in his opening statement Monday that the Diocese of Oakland admitted it was negligent in its supervision of Ponciroli. At issue, he said, is what amount of money constitutes "reasonable damages" to compensate the Thatcher brothers and whether Bob Thatcher should be awarded punitive damages.
"No excuses," Ruby said. "There is no excuse for what happened to Bob Thatcher or Tom Thatcher.''
But Ruby said Bishops Vigneron and John Cummins, who preceded him, had offered repeated public apologies and put strict new policies in place to protect children. Ruby said the most recent child abuse accusation against the diocese concerned an incident that allegedly occurred in 1989.
The Thatcher brothers' case appears to be particularly strong because of a May 22, 1975, memo written by then-Oakland Bishop Floyd Begin.
In the memo, marked "confidential" and "to myself," Begin cites suspicions that Ponciroli was "too free with boys, especially altar boys" at St. Cornelius parish in Richmond.
It says the parents of a seventh-grade boy complained to church officials after their son said Ponciroli "took down my pants, touched my privates."
The memo also states that one group of boys at St. Cornelius presented a petition to their pastor in which they complained that Ponciroli was "weird" and "queer" and "has a habit of putting his hands where they don't belong."
Two months later, in July 1975, Begin transferred Ponciroli to Our Lady of Grace parish in Castro Valley. Begin died in 1977 and was replaced by Cummins, who appointed Ponciroli as the founding pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Antioch.
In court Monday, Simons showed the jury enlarged copies of three incriminating church documents, along with giant color photos of the Thatcher brothers at age 8 and 10, when the abuse allegedly occurred.
Among Simons' witnesses was Bradley Hardgrove, another former altar boy. Hardgrove testified that he and his best friend had circulated the petition at St. Cornelius parish, which was signed by seven or eight altar boys and presented to the pastor who supervised Ponciroli at the Richmond church.
Ponciroli, known to the altar boys as "Father Bob," was a sexually abusive, obese man with a quick temper, Hardgrove said.
"He'd yell at you," Hardgrove said. "He was a big man. We were little kids.''
Another of Simons' witnesses, Antioch police detective Mary Hooker, testified that Ponciroli admitted in a taped telephone conversation that he was "a sick puppy" and "sex addict."
"He said a lot of people trusted him, and he did a lot of damage,'' Hooker said.
Ponciroli, 68, has been removed from public ministry. He faced criminal molestation charges until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July 2003 that a separate law retroactively extending the statute of limitations in criminal cases was unconstitutional.
Bob Thatcher, 34, now lives in Arizona. His brother Tom, 33, resides in Florida.
Vigneron, who sat through all of Monday's testimony, told reporters during a break that "the whole record of abuse brings great shame" upon the church.
"I want to make sure I do my part to make sure this doesn't happen again, '' he said.
Testimony in the trial, which could last a month, was scheduled to continue today.