Catholic Diocese Could Face Additional Plaintiffs

By Greg Moran
Union-Tribune [San Diego CA]
December 23, 2003

In a new wrinkle in the clergy abuse scandal, two attorneys representing people who contend they were abused by priests filed a class action lawsuit against the Roman Catholic dioceses of San Diego and San Bernardino yesterday.

The class action suit, if allowed to go forward, would cover people who claim they were abused, but have not yet filed suit and would not meet the Dec. 31 deadline to file such lawsuits, according to attorney Irwin Zalkin.

Lawyers across the state have been racing to meet that deadline, established by the Legislature as part of a special law aimed at the church and alleged abuse victims.

The law lifted the legal time limit for bringing claims, as long as the civil suits were filed by Dec. 31. That has allowed scores of people to sue, alleging they were molested as long as 60 years ago.

"By filing this lawsuit, it is our goal and our hope to allow people to still come forward and be part of this class," Zalkin said yesterday. "Our hope is we would effectively extend the deadline."

He and partner Michael Zimmer have filed more than three dozen suits against the San Diego Diocese. In all, about 60 suits have been filed against the diocese, Zalkin estimated.

A spokesman for the diocese said it would challenge the establishment of a class action.

"Because the cases are different and the circumstances are different in each case, we think these should be handled individually," said Rod Valdivia, the chancellor for the diocese.

The suit filed yesterday lists three anonymous men as the lead plaintiffs. They contend that they were molested by the Rev. Edward Anthony Rodrigue from 1975 to 1976 while they were members of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in El Centro.

They were all altar boys between the ages of 8 and 10 when they encountered Rodrigue, according to the suit. They allege that the priest gave them alcohol and marijuana, showed pornographic films, and sexually abused and molested them repeatedly.

The suit contends that one of the plaintiffs telephoned the bishop's office at the San Diego Diocese to report that Rodrigue was molesting altar boys. The suit says the plaintiff spoke to a staff member, and then never heard back.

The class action alleges that the diocese concealed allegations against abusive priests and covered up their wrongdoing by moving priests to different parishes, Zalkin said.

Similar class actions have been filed this year by attorneys representing plaintiffs in Los Angeles County and northern California.

Rodrigue was removed from the priesthood in 1992. In 1998, he was sen tenced to 10 years in state prison for molesting an 11-year-old developmentally disabled boy. He is believed to still be in prison, but his whereabouts could not be confirmed yesterday.

Rodrigue has been named in three other lawsuits from now-adult males, alleging he molested them in the later 1970s in parishes in San Bernardino.

It will now be up to a judge to certify the class action, a key move allowing the case to move forward. To do that, the judge must conclude that there is a common interest among similarly situated people described by the class in this case, people who were abused by priests in the San Diego Diocese, Zalkin said.

Up to this time attorneys have been filing suits on behalf of individuals, or small groupings of plaintiffs. A class action can, conceivably, incorporate many hundreds of victims under one suit, Zalkin said.

Also yesterday, members of SNAP, an organization of people who say they were abused by clergy, held a news conference outside the diocesan offices urging officials there to reveal the names of all known sexual abusers in the church.

In a statement, Valdivia said the diocese has reported to prosecutors "all allegations of sexual abuse by current or former priests who are alive." That was done under a July 2002 agreement between the church and prosecutors.


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