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  Woman Makes Plea to Victims of Clergy Abuse
Diocese of Oakland Has Agreed to Pay Her $3 Million

By Charles Burress
San Francisco Chronicle [California]
January 26, 2004

Clutching her 2-year-old son to her side, Jennifer Chapin faced the media in Oakland on Sunday to tell of harrowing sexual abuse by a Catholic priest and to urge other victims to come forward.

Chapin, a 31-year-old psychiatric nurse now living in Oakdale, has been awarded $3 million in a settlement reached Friday with the Diocese of Oakland. It is one of the largest disclosed settlements in the state between a diocese and a single victim. On Sunday, she brought a small photo of herself dressed in white Communion dress when she was 7 years old, an age when she said she was already a victim of the late Monsignor George Francis, pastor of St. Bede Parish in Hayward, where Chapin's family were members.

"I was raped several times by Msgr. Francis, very ritualistically and sadistically," she said. She said the abuse started when she was 6 and continued about four years.

Diocese representatives could not be reached to comment Sunday. Diocese Chancellor Sister Barbara Flannery, who's in charge of diocesan programs for victims, said she wants to have reconciliation services this year in each parish where abuses have occurred, according to a Catholic News Service report.

Chapin, who said she's no longer a practicing Catholic, said Flannery had been responsive and has arranged for Chapin to enter diocese-funded therapy. She said she was satisfied with her settlement but not with a diocese refusal to reveal other cases of alleged abuse.

She also called on the church to encourage other victims to come forward and provide more help.

Appearing at a news conference in front of the diocese's closed offices on Lakeshore Avenue, she said she was pleased most by an agreement in the settlement by which she will participate as a speaker for a diocese-sponsored education campaign on sexual abuse.

"The most satisfying is being able to speak in the educational process and prevent this from happening to others," she said, holding her son, Billy- Bob. She was flanked by her husband, Michael, who sometimes squeezed her hand, and by three other victims of sexual abuse.

Michael Chapin, a photographer for churches, said his reaction upon learning of what happened to his wife was "maybe a little shock but mainly lots of anger. I've had a lot of anger toward the church since then."

One of Chapin's lawyers, Rick Simons, said a neighbor had reported Francis' suspicious behavior toward Chapin at the time but that the diocese did not take action and later destroyed the record of that report and similar reports about other perpetrators.

Chapin said she first revealed her abuse in 1992 to her first husband and that her current husband encouraged her to contact the diocese about it two years ago.

She filed suit against the diocese in November 2002, and then refiled it in February 2003 to comply with a new state law that created a one-year window to file old claims of sexual abuse.

One of the three other women, Terrie Light, said she too was raped by Francis when she was 7.

"This man was a monster," said Light, Northern California coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She said she's spoken to five other women abused by Francis, who died in 1998.

Light called on the diocese to "name all the priests that there are credible allegations against."

 
 

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