|Diocese Settles Civil Lawsuit against Lakeport Priest
By Elizabeth Larson
Lake County News
March 19, 2009
LAKEPORT – The Diocese of Santa Rosa has settled a civil lawsuit filed last year that named the diocese and a former Lakeport priest.
The lawsuit, filed by Christopher Griego, 31, of Tracy, had alleged he had been sexually abused by Father Ted Oswald, 63, between 1988 and 1995, as Lake County News has reported.
Dan Galvin, the diocese's attorney, confirmed the case was settled but would offer no other details about the settlement.
“Out of respect for the plaintiff we're not going to comment,” he said.
Bishop Daniel Walsh reportedly broke the news of the settlement to St. Mary Immaculate parishioners earlier this month during mass, but he offered church members no details.
Hayward attorney Richard Simons, who represented Griego in the case, is out of the office this week and won't return until next Monday, so could not be reached for comment.
The suit, originally filed in Sonoma County Superior Court in January of 2008, had initially named only the diocese. However, Simons filed an amended complaint adding Oswald's name to the suit. Galvin told Lake County News last summer that the suit was seeking $2.5 million in damages.
Oswald served as priest at St. Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Lakeport for 20 years. A Vietnam veteran, he earned his master's of divinity degree in 1984 from a Roman seminary.
On June 1, 2008, at the end of Sunday mass, Oswald told his parishioners that he would be taking a leave from his post until the case was resolved.
Both the Lakeport Police Department and the Lake County District Attorney's Office said no criminal complaint about the abuse allegations had ever been filed with their agencies.
Oswald maintained his innocence after the suit was filed and vowed to fight the allegations. As a young priest, Oswald had helped investigate a sexual abuse case in Arizona.
Last summer, after he went on a leave of absence from the parish, Oswald also took leaves from his volunteer chaplain posts with Lakeport Police Department and the Lake County Sheriff's Office.
Lt. Brad Rasmussen of the Lakeport Police Department said Wednesday that Oswald is a former chaplain for the department.
Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said he believed Oswald was still officially on a leave from service to that agency.
Dierdre Frontczak, the diocese's spokesperson, said Oswald remains a priest but he is now retired. “He is no longer in active ministry.”
Because he's been removed from the ministry, he can't come back and hold mass, Frontczak said.
She said the diocese hasn't “laicized” Oswald, meaning they haven't officially removed him from the priesthood.
“It's not done often,” said Frontczak, explaining that church leadership usually takes that step only when a priest asks to be released from the priesthood to marry or if the priest has been egregiously defiant of the church's morality rules.
Rev. Thomas Diaz, the diocese's director of vocations, currently is acting as St. Mary Immaculate's priest, said Frontczak. She said she does not know if Diaz will be permanently appointed to the spot.
The diocese doesn't have as many young priests coming into the vocation, Frontczak said. She thinks that's a problem all over the western United States.
The road to becoming a priest, she said, has become “a more thoughtful process,” with many more tests, evaluations and interviews to determine whether candidates are right for the priesthood.
“It's not for everybody,” Frontczak said.
E-mail Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.