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  S.F. Priest Accused in Abuse Case
He's Suspended from Duty at St. Cecilia's Church

By Kevin Leary and Don Lattin
San Francisco Chronicle
March 26, 1994

Monsignor Patrick J. O'Shea, the pastor of St. Cecilia's Catholic Church and head of the San Francisco Archdiocese's efforts to reach the gay community, has been placed on administrative leave while police investigate allegations of child sex abuse, the archdiocese announced yesterday.

O'Shea, 62, who was chairman of the church's Board of Ministries to Gay and Lesbian People, was suspended from his parish duties on March 11 by Archbishop John R. Quinn after church authorities learned of the police investigation, according to archdiocesan spokesman Deacon Bill Mitchell.

"We first heard of it on March 10," said Mitchell. "We heard from police about generic allegations of child abuse."

Mitchell said O'Shea was "removed from St. Cecilia's and other residences and he is relocated in a place where he is separated from parish communities and afforded a degree of privacy."

NO CHARGES FILED

O'Shea, who has not been arrested or charged, could not be reached for comment. Monsignor Steven Otellini, acting administrator of St. Cecilia's Church, described him as "very respected, had held responsible positions, was exemplary in his conduct and there were no questions about his behavior. He was well liked by the priests in the parish."

St. Cecilia's parish, which also includes an elementary school, is located in a neighborhood of comfortable homes in a middle class section of the Sunset District. For generations, police, fire and City Hall officialdom have worshiped at the church, which is identified with traditional Catholic leadership in San Francisco.

Those who worship at St. Cecilia's include Police Chief Anthony Ribera, who also coaches a parish baseball team.

As news of the allegations spread through the neighborhood yesterday, about 350 parishioners gathered for the evening Mass inside the imposing, red-tile-roofed church.

CHURCH MEMBERS SHOCKED

Parishioner Nelda Cano was in tears as she stood outside the church with her two daughters, Jan and Alodia.

"He (O'Shea) left so fast," said 8th grader Alodia, who has attended the parish school since first grade. "We wondered why he wasn't going to be in the graduation picture."

"They told us he was sick," Mrs. Cano said. "It's such a shock. He is so nice and friendly."

Her daughters and several other boys and girls who have attended the parish school said they have never heard any rumors about O'Shea, and found the allegations hard to believe.

"He was more of a friend than a priest," said Kevin Reilly, 15, who graduated from the parish elementary school and now attends Sacred Heart school. "I don't think it's true."

Nora O'Sullivan, who has spent 30 years in the parish and raised four children in its school, also found it hard to believe.

"I think he has been falsely accused," O'Sullivan said. "He is a great priest and has been wonderful for the parish."

Church spokesman Mitchell said the archdiocese decided to make their announcement yesterday because rumors were starting to circulate in the parish. "Police have been talking to some people at the school, and some parents were becoming concerned," he said.

O'Shea has worked in the San Francisco Archdiocese since his ordination as a priest in 1958. He was an associate pastor at Mission Dolores from 1958 to 1970.

In 1971, he became director of the Propagation of the Faith program, and from 1976 to 1979 he directed the training of the archdiocese's deacons. In 1978, he was appointed pastor of the Holy Name of Jesus Church in the Sunset District, a post he held until 1990 when he was transferred to St. Cecilia Church at 17th Avenue and Vicente Street.

Police declined to provide details about the investigation.

In a brief statement issued yesterday, Chief Ribera said, "I have complete confidence that the inspectors from the Juvenile Division will conduct a thorough investigation into this matter."

Archbishop Quinn also released a statement in which he said, "The archdiocese intends to fully cooperate with civil authorities in this matter. We express our deepest concern for all of the parties involved in the allegations and our willingness to offer them appropriate pastoral support."

Quinn also noted O'Shea's right to be "presumed innocent of criminal charges until proven guilty in the criminal justice system."

Several St. Cecilia parishioners pointed to the recent case of Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who received widespread publicity for sex abuse allegations, only to have his accuser later retract the accusations, blaming them on a false "recovered memory."

Many allegations, however, have proven to be true. Last year, a church review board reported that 11 Franciscan friars at a now- closed Santa Barbara seminary sexually abused at least 34 victims over a 23-year period, included choir boys as young as seven.

Some researchers have estimated that the Roman Catholic Church in North America has paid out some $ 400 million in sex abuse settlements since 1984.

The child abuse allegations at St. Cecilia's came only three weeks after the archdiocese's official newsletter denied that there were any monetary claims against the church based on sex abuse.

The questions came up, the newsletter said, because of rumors that the archbishop was anxious to close several parish churches in order to satisfy supposed claims by persons who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of religious personnel.

 
 

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