Diocese Plans Apology Services for Abuse Victims
Lawyer Says Idea Is Good

By Melissa Evans
Oakland Tribune [California]
Downloaded February 1, 2004

First came the accusations of sexual abuse against two former Tri-City area Catholic priests.

Months of investigating followed. Charges were filed. Criminal cases were settled. Civil litigation is likely to linger for years.

Members of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Fremont and Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City -- the two local churches where the accused abusers served -- now will get a chance to grieve.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland is planning a series of "apology" services at 14 parishes where priests were alleged to have molested children.

Bishop Allen Vigneron will apologize to the congregations at both Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Rosary. Former priest Stephen Kiesle served at Santa Paula Parish before it merged with St. Leonard's Parish to become Our Lady of Guadalupe, and he also served at Our Lady of the Rosary. Former priest Robert Freitas also served at Santa Paula.

Dates for the local services have not yet been set.

"We're inviting (victims) to be present at the parish where they were abused, and we're giving them options of a public apology or having a private apology. Anything that will meet their needs," said Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the diocese.

"We're doing this because we truly want to apologize," she said, adding that the diocese is not seeking publicity for the services.

However, The Catholic Voice -- a publication run out of the bishop's office -- detailed the emotion of Vigneron's first apology service, held Jan. 13 at St. Ignatius Parish in Antioch.

Victims of abuse and regular members of the church were given a chance to express their anger, hurt and even disbelief. Flannery acknowledged that many Catholics still are unconvinced that their priests -- who are considered God's representatives on Earth -- committed such acts.

"I know people have left the church," said Ruth Gallo, a member of Our Lady of the Rosary. "But our faith is still the same."

Earlier this month, Kiesle accepted a plea bargain that will send him to state prison for at least six years for molesting a minor at his Truckee vacation home in 1995.

Though he pleaded guilty, the other criminal charges against Kiesle -- including 11 counts of child molestation in Alameda County -- were dropped. He couldn't be prosecuted after last summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating a 1994 law extending the statute of limitations in child molestation cases.

The decision also meant that Freitas was cleared of criminal charges for allegedly molesting a boy at Santa Paula in 1979.

Both former priests and the diocese are facing a slew of civil cases. In December, the diocese was ordered to pay $1.05 million and Freitas was ordered to pay $16 million to former parishioner Mark Bogdanowicz.

Freitas also faces a separate civil suit brought by a former member of St. Leonard's, who claims he was molested on two occasions in 1980. And in December, attorney R. Lewis Van Blois slapped Kiesle and the diocese with a civil suit on behalf of seven female victims who say they were molested at Santa Paula in the 1970s.

"It's nice," Van Blois said when asked about the apology services, "I'm certainly not going to speak ill of that. On the other hand, the answer is that (the diocese) has got to come forward and take care of these victims."

His clients, he said, are in severe need of psychiatric counseling and

"Now (the victims) are being fought tooth and nail in the courts. (The diocese) is spending thousands of dollars on lawyers to defeat (the charges)."


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