Judge Rules Churches Should Report Abuse

The Associated Press
August 27, 2004

OAKLAND (AP) - A judge has decided church workers had an obligation to report any unlawful sexual conduct with children, according to his tentative ruling in a decades-old priest abuse case.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw ruled Wednesday in the case of the late Rev. Arthur Ribeiro, who's accused of molesting Catholic school boys in Concord in the 1960s.

Sabraw said he would issue a final ruling by Sept. 3 in a test case that will signal the fate of scores of child-abuse lawsuits against Catholic Churches from Santa Rosa to Monterey.

The judge is coordinating legal action in the "Clergy III" cases, more than 150 Northern California lawsuits made possible by a state law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations during the year 2003 for adults seeking damages for old child abuse claims.

Clergy I and Clergy II represent hundreds of similar claims in Los Angeles and San Diego.

In the Ribeiro case, attorneys haggled over whether witnesses' accounts of schoolboys being led into the Concord rectory by a housekeeper and taken into the priest's bedroom meant the church was "on notice" of unlawful sexual conduct.

In his tentative ruling, the judge agreed and likened "the situation to an employee at the concession stand at a theater who may have no responsibility to check fire extinguishers and exit signs but who is expected to yell 'Fire!' in the event of a fire," Sabraw said.


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