Oakland Diocese Abuse Case under Way
Jury Selection May Begin Thursday in Case Involving Former Altar Boy, Retired Priest

By Glenn Chapman
Oakland Tribune [California]
March 6, 2005

While negotiations continued in an effort to reach a "global settlement" between the Roman Catholic Church and those who have accused its priests of sexually abusing them, one of the first so-called Clergy III civil trials began Monday in a Hayward courtroom.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Harry Sheppard met for about 90 minutes with the attorney representing former altar boy Bob Thatch-er and lawyers defending the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland and Thatcher's accused abuser, Robert Ponciroli.

Sheppard was presented with two large piles of briefs he is to review before attorneys return to his courtroom Wednesday to argue motions, which include requests to limit evidence and expert testimony at the trial.

Jury selection could begin as early as Thursday.

Unless a settlement precludes the proceedings, Sheppard will preside over a civil trial pitting Thatcher and his lawyer, Richard Simons, against retired priest Ponciroli and the diocese.

Ponciroli, 68, is accused of abusing Thatcher from 1979 to 1982 while Thatcher was an altar boy at St. Ignatius Parish in Antioch.

The Oakland diocese includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The Thatcher case is one of several naming Ponciroli as an abuser.

The Thatcher case is one of two Clergy III trials that officially began Monday. San Francisco Judge John Munter will oversee a civil trial centered on claims of wrongdoing by the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard.

Dennis Kavanaugh, a former student at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in San Jose, contends he was molested by Pritchard at the church in 1972 and 1973. Pritchard worked for the San Francisco Archdiocese and Kavanaugh was 12 years old when the purported abuse began.

About 200 plaintiffs are involved in approximately 160 priest sex abuse suits being coordinated by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw.

Defendants in the cases range from priests to Catholic church officials who are accused of covering up the abuses and protecting wrongdoers. Sabraw has spent months deciding issues of law and evidence to ready the cases for trials. Sabraw is directing the cases to trial as they are ready.


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