Church Agrees to Pay in Molestation Suit

By Gregg Zoroya
August 16, 1988

The Roman Catholic Church has agreed to finance a settlement that will pay $ 54,720 to an Anaheim boy who contends he was molested at age 8 by a priest during a church-sponsored Boy Scout camping trip in 1983.

The agreement, if approved by a judge next week, would end a lawsuit brought on behalf of the boy, who said the Rev. Robert Foley molested him and then warned him to remain silent or else "the devil would get him."

No criminal charges were filed against Foley, who was sent out of the country by the church after the boy's mother, Joan Possemato, complained to officials of St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church in Anaheim.

That was the church attended by Possemato and her son and it was where Foley was a parish priest. Possemato urged the church to reassign Foley away from duties where he would come in contact with children.

When Possemato learned that no action had been taken against Foley other than to be assigned to a church in England, she hired an attorney who filed suit on her son's behalf.

Monday, Possemato said she was disillusioned by the church's reaction and now wishes she had first gone to the police. As far as the settlement, she said there was no amount that could have made amends.

"They could pay (my son) a million dollars and it will not change what happened and it will not change (him) and what he's been through," she said.

In agreeing to the settlement, the church has admitted no wrongdoing.

The lawsuit names Foley and the Diocese of Orange County as defendants. Possemato's attorney, Robert M. Aran, said he never was able to locate the priest in England.

The portion of the lawsuit against the church nearly was thrown out by courts in Orange County when attorneys for the church argued that the diocese could not be held accountable for the alleged actions of priests.

It was a legal position that was weakened in 1987 by a state appellate ruling. That court found that a church could be liable for the actions of representatives if a "special relationship" was involved and if the church failed to act in the face of any obvious irregularities or problems.

In Foley's case, Aran argued that before the incident involving the boy, church officials had discovered devil posters in the priest's chambers. He accused the church of failing to "conduct a reasonable inquiry into Foley's fitness to work closely with young parishioners."

The recent appellate ruling was cited and the court allowed the lawsuit to proceed against the church.

In the meantime, settlement negotiations continued and the church recently offered to purchase an annuity.

According to the agreement, the child is being paid $ 19,000 immediately. Beginning at his 18th birthday he will receive three annual sums totaling $ 35,720, according to court papers.


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