Napa Priest Named in Sex Abuse Lawsuit
Pasadena Woman Alleges St. Apollinaris Monsignor of Molestation Nearly 40 Years Ago
By David Ryan
Napa Valley Register [California]
December 26, 2003
A Napa priest is caught up in one of a flurry of lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church as the year winds down, facing allegations that he sexually abused a Southern California girl during the 1960s.
The girl, now a 44-year-old private school teacher in Pasadena, is one of 17 alleged victims of child abuse by various clerics of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles claims Monsignor Joseph Alzugaray, now head of St. Apollinaris Catholic Church in Napa, and 26 other priests used their positions in the church hierarchy to create an environment that protected child molesters.
Erin Brady said Alzugaray molested her during a three-year period starting in 1967, when she was 8 years old. While Brady is one of several people who filed the suit in Romo v. Doe, is the only one to make a claim against Alzugaray.
Alzugaray referred comment to his Los Angeles-based lawyer, Neil Papiano, who did not return phone calls. Other members of St. Apollinaris Church did not respond to requests for comment.
Officials with the diocese of Santa Rosa, which oversees St. Apollinaris Church, did not return calls for comment, nor did officials with the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
The Dec. 17 lawsuit filed by attorneys Ray Boucher of Beverly Hills and Lawrence Drivon of Stockton is one of hundreds of cases launched against the Catholic Church as a Dec. 31 deadline approaches to file sex abuse claims from decades gone by.
A consortium of about 30 lawyers around the state are working to meet the deadline, according to Drivon, who said he was acting as a coordinator for most of the 400 abuse claims against Catholic priests. Drivon said the lawsuits around the state also included a few private attorneys not associated with the consortium.
The Dec. 17 court filing alleges, "The presence of such a high number of high ranking child molester priests in the .... archdiocese underscores the institutional and cultural acceptance and acquiescence in child molestation by priests. "It is concordant with the systematic failure of the ... archdiocese to take appropriate action to prevent sexual abuse of children."
Alzugaray is third person affiliated with St. Apollinaris to face such allegations. In 2002, a former parish priest was accused of molesting an altar boy when the priest was serving in Oregon. Earlier this year, a former math teacher at St. Apollinaris was accused of molesting a student more than 30 years earlier.
Results of those cases, if they have concluded, could not be obtained by press time.
Allegations of abuse
According to the new complaint, while a priest at the Immaculate Conception parish in Monrovia during the late 1960s, Alzugaray molested more than one prepubescent girl. He nonetheless ascended through the ranks of the church hierarchy, becoming a recruiter, as well being involved in other official capacities of the church.
"After persistent allegations were raised of Alzugaray's molesting children, he was transferred to Northern California," the court filing said.
In an interview, Brady said that while she attended a Catholic school in Monrovia, near Pasadena, Alzugaray allegedly used his position as a priest to spend time alone with her.
At first the cleric read stories to her, but Brady said their time together eventually lead to repeated episodes of sexual assault.
"Let's put it this way, it went to the most awful thing you could think of," she said.
Brady said Alzugaray was allowed to be alone with her because of his status with the church.
"Back in those days priests had complete access to anything and everyone they wanted," she said. "They could do anything they wanted. ... (Alzugaray) was very charismatic. The type of person that spent a lot of time going around to the classrooms. On the playground he would often come out and play kickball with the kids. Then he would pay special attention to me, holding my hand and picking me up. To have a priest hold your hand and pay special attention to you was very complimenting."
Brady said she repressed memories of the abuse for decades, despite repeated "triggers" like the sight of curly dark-haired men or pipes that still send her into panic attacks.
She also said at the time she had repeated problems in her personal relationships in ways she declined to state.
"I knew something happened but I just wouldn't let myself go back there," she said.
Recovered memories have been the subject of intense psychological and legal scrutiny, as questions have been raised about their veracity.
Help in Napa
An experience with a Napa religious group in 1993 gave Brady what she called an atmosphere to deal with the memories and confront the church about Alzugaray. She wouldn't name the group because she was fearful the church would blame it for her accusations against the priest.
Brady said after reading an article about Alzugaray in a Catholic magazine, she had discovered he had risen through the ranks of the church, and she wanted to warn church leaders about him in case he had contact with other children.
Brady also wanted the church to pay for her $75 per week therapy sessions to help her cope with her alleged abuse, but she said officials believed Alzugaray's denials.
After Alzugaray was transferred to the Santa Rosa diocese, Brady was assured that church officials in Los Angeles sent a letter to Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann detailing the accusations against the priest. When asked, Ziemann told Brady he hadn't heard of the complaints against Alzugaray.
"His response to me was he knew nothing about it and that he would look into it," she said.
Ziemann was also named in the Dec. 17 lawsuit. The Bishop left his position in 1999 after he was accused of sexual misconduct with another priest, and mishandled the diocese's finances to the extent it fell into debt by $15 million.
Monsignor Father Brenkle, now head of St. Helena Catholic Church, worked to repair the damage to the diocese in the days following Ziemann's departure.
Brenkle said the holidays were a poor time to revisit such painful days, and that at least in part such lawsuits are inspired by financial motives.
"We've got these attorneys from out of state convincing people that the church has deep pockets," he said.
Some in communities Alzugaray left behind keep tabs on Ziemann and Alzugaray.
Don Hoard, a Petaluma resident and an advocate for victims of clerical child abuse, said Alzugaray worked at St. James Catholic Church and St. Vincent De Paul's Church in Petaluma before being transferred to St. Apollinaris a few years ago.
Brady said she believed Ziemann and Alzugaray were friends. Discouraged after Ziemann's rebuff, she said she gave in to pressure from the Los Angeles Diocese to undergo testing from an evaluator -- who Brady claims vouched for her honesty -- but the church told her that she couldn't prove Alzugaray abused her and ended its inquiry.
Brady said she backed off for five years, emotionally exhausted and convinced the church wouldn't act. Her frustrations are not uncommon for victims, according to Terrie Light, the Northern California coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
Light said the church has historically covered up other claims of abuse against priests.
"In most cases the church has had other reports, but they tell people that they didn't know anything about it," she said.
After the Boston priest scandal, Catholic bishops met in Dallas to declare they would respond more compassionately to people who come forward with claims of abuse.
Light said the process for handling the claims leaves her skeptical of the church's independent review boards, especially since even the questions the review boards are allowed to ask are overseen by bishops.
"It seems to be historically true that (bishops) covered up and protected these priests, and then you ask them on their honor to tell the truth? It kind of strains the average person's idea of credibility."
After the Boston scandal stirred national controversy about the Catholic Church and child abuse, Brady contacted the church again, hoping that her story would be handled differently.
In the interview, Brady said church officials opened an investigation committee, using confidential documents she said they never asked permission for. After an internal inquiry, the committee sent Brady a letter in August 2002 saying they didn't believe her story.
Although unsure the lawsuits will have an effect on Alzugaray, Brady said she feared for other children who might have been abused by Alzugaray in Petaluma and Napa.
"I think there's a very good chance of that, especially with his time in Petaluma," she said. "That's always a concern."
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