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  Mother Obsessed with Priest, Jury Told

By Susan Herendeen
Modesto Bee [Stockton CA]
March 24, 2005

STOCKTON An Oakdale man testified Wednesday that a woman who is suing two St. Joseph's Catholic Church priests and the Stockton Diocese once complained to him that she was not able to seduce the Rev. Joseph Illo during a trip to Rome.

Edward Tobias, testifying during a civil lawsuit trial in San Joaquin County Superior Court, said the woman seemed to be obsessed with the priest from the Modesto parish and often followed him around the parish.

He said he remembers her complaint vividly.

"She said, 'I did everything I could, but the man is not capable of having sex,'" said Tobias, a St. Joseph's parishioner.

The lawsuit brought by the woman claims that Illo responded improperly in September 2002 when her middle daughter reported concerns about the Rev. Francis Arakal, an associate pastor at St. Joseph's.

The mother claims that Arakal twice touched the breast of her eldest daughter in July 2002 while he was pinning the girl to the ground during a tickle fight at the family's home. She also claims that Arakal asked her youngest daughter to reach into his pants pocket to pull out a priest's collar.

Tobias was followed on the witness stand by two women who said the divorced mother of three seemed to have a romantic interest in Illo.

Tammy Bowman of Hughson said the woman talked openly about her love for a man of the cloth and even dyed a blue streak in her hair to get his attention.

Bowman's sister-in-law Diane Kelley of Ceres said she also heard the woman talking about her love for a priest. The three women know each other because their children were involved in the same recreational group.

"She did tell me that he was in denial and that he did love her," Bowman said. "He just needed to show affection and it would be OK."

Eight women and four men on the jury will have to decide what to make of it all.

The woman's attorneys contend that Arakal's behavior is consistent with a predator "grooming" a victim, and should not have been ignored by Illo, who concluded that the complaints were unfounded.

Law enforcement officers investigated and determined there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges.

The Bee is not naming the woman or her daughters because the minors are alleged victims of sexual abuse.

The jury, which is expected to begin deliberating today, can award punitive damages to the family if it concludes that the actions of the priests caused the young girls emotional distress.

In a closing argument, attorney Anthony Boskovich of San Jose, who represents the family, said $1 million would not be unreasonable.

But attorney Vladimir Kozina of Stockton, who represents the defendants, said the woman is manipulating her children because she feels scorned by Illo, who cannot return her affections.

"Why would they make these allegations? Why would they ruin the reputation of a priest?" he said. "Retribution."

Attorney George MacKoul of Falmouth, Mass., who also represents the mother, said Kozina is trying to distract the jury by smearing his client.

"Their entire defense, ladies and gentlemen, is based on trashing the mom," he said. "What does the relationship between (my client) and Father Illo have to do with what Father Arakal did to those kids?"

Attorney Michael Coughlan of Stockton urged the jury to use common sense when analyzing the conflicting claims.

He noted the woman invited Arakal into her home three times, even though she said he gave her the "heebie-jeebies."

And he noted that the woman sent Illo friendly cards after he concluded that her daughter's concerns about Arakal were unfounded.

The woman did nothing more about the alleged touching incidents until after Illo asked her to find another place to worship.

"They just go back to being parishioners at St. Joseph's Church as if nothing had ever happened," Coughlan said. "And I submit to you, that that was because nothing had happened."

 
 

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