Former Palma Teacher Admits Molesting Student in 1980s
By Virginia Hennessey
Santa Cruz Sentinel
March 27, 2013
A former Palma High School chaplain and teacher has admitted in sworn testimony that he sexually assaulted a Palma student.
In a videotaped deposition, the Rev. Gerald Funcheon claimed he molested just one student at Palma and that the boy was his last. The redacted video does not include the names of any of the priest's alleged victims.
Five men have leveled claims that Funcheon molested them when they were students at the school during the Crosier priest's tenure from 1984 to 1985.
Funcheon testified that he did not believe his conduct was perverted or criminal at the time. Though his superiors admitted in letters they were "butterflying" him around the country as allegations of molestations surfaced, Funcheon said none of them ever confronted him in detail about what he had done.
Lawyers for the local claimants and four others who claim they were assaulted by "Father Jerry" while they were students at Damien Memorial High School in Honolulu said they don't believe Funcheon's claim that he molested no children after leaving Palma.
"His statement is probably not true," said Seattle attorney Michael Pfau. "Pedophiles will admit what is known and lie about what they think is not known."
Funcheon had at least two other assignments after Palma before he was terminated from the Crosier Order. He remains a priest but is not allowed to practice or dress as one and lives at the St. John Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Mo., funded by the Diocese of
Lafayette, Ind., where he was born.
"They call it a treatment center," said Pfau. "It's a secure facility."
Attorney Jeff Anderson recently released redacted portions of the Sept. 18, 2012, deposition during a press conference in Hawaii. A new law there has opened a one-year window of opportunity for men and women who claim they were abused as children to pursue civil litigation.
The first lawsuit filed under the law was by Gary Oakland, a Hawaii man who claims he was molested by Funcheon during his tenure at Damien from 1982 to 1984. Funcheon was dismissed from the school after parents accused him of misconduct on a student camping trip. The Crosiers sent him directly to Palma.
Palma and Damien are two of the schools entangled in the ongoing bankruptcy case of the Irish Christian Brothers and the Christian Brothers Institute of New York. While Palma President Brother Patrick Dunne maintains the school is corporately independent, the order has identified both schools as facilities where its brothers and others have been the targets of credible claims of child sexual abuse.
Six former Palma students filed claims in that bankruptcy case before the Aug. 1, 2012, deadline. One of the claims involves the late Brother Jerome Huestis, former principal of Palma.
Two of the men, Christopher Spedden and Steven Cantrell, have also filed lawsuits against Funcheon and the Crosiers. Most, if not all, of Funcheon's alleged victims claim they were assaulted on overnight outings with the priest.
Pfau said the lawsuits have been placed on hold while a federal bankruptcy judge negotiates a settlement between dozens of plaintiffs nationwide and the Irish Christian Brothers. He said he believes a settlement may be reached by the end of summer or early fall.
Dunne has previously stated that the Palma community is "saddened and angered" by the possibility that children were abused, particularly by religious men. He stressed, however, that none of the school's current staff is implicated.
Palma released a statement concerning the video deposition, stating in part: "Funcheon's admissions of his behavior while he was a teacher in Hawaii were disgusting to say the very least. We all pray for the comfort and peace of the victims of that abuse. These taped statements from 2012 appear to have been heavily edited. As a result, it is difficult to say with real clarity exactly what the extent of Funcheon's admissions may have been. It would be good to have an entirely unedited video, though it would surely be no less disturbing.
"We will continue to pray for the victims of all sexual abuse and hope that justice will come to them sooner rather than later."
During the deposition, Funcheon was asked the last time he "acted out sexually with and towards the youth."
"Hawaii ... no. California, Palma High School was the last time," Funcheon answered.
In a portion of the transcript supplied only to The Herald, Funcheon says he molested just one child at Palma.
Funcheon admits molesting a dozen boys over the years, but said he didn't believe the conduct was a "perversion or abnormality," and did not know at the time he was committing a crime.
"I do now," he said, adding that had his superiors told him he could go to jail, he would have stopped.
Funcheon testified that no superior had ever asked what he had done to children or the names of his victims.
During his questioning of Funcheon, Anderson asked if the priest might be underestimating the number of children he had molested. Anderson noted that a letter between two of Funcheon's superiors stated that he had told his bishop he had molested 50 kids between the ages of 10 and 16.
"Wow," Funcheon said, "I, I couldn't count 'em up. I'll go, I don't know, I'll go to 18."
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or email@example.com.