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  Trial of Priest on Sex Abuse Charges to Begin
Court Many Adults He Counseled As Children Decades Ago Are Expected to Testify in the Case. He Maintains His Innocence

By Richard Marosi
Los Angeles Times
February 18, 2002

During his years as a priest, Donald Kimball won over parents and children in Santa Rosa with an edgy youth outreach program that blended Top 40 hits with Bible teachings.

Children regularly sought advice from the "disc jockey priest." He became known nationally for his ability to reach troubled youths.

But many children he once counseled decades ago will be his chief accusers at a sexual abuse trial scheduled to start Tuesday in Santa Rosa.

Expected to last two months, the trial will include testimony from dozens of witnesses, among them ex-priests and alleged victims, and will focus attention on another scandal in a Catholic diocese.

The former youth minister is accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in 1977 and molesting a 13-year-old girl four years later. If convicted on the three counts, he faces a potential 12-year prison term.

Kimball, 58, an inactive priest since the late 1980s, has maintained his innocence. His attorney, Chris Andrian, has claimed that the allegations are based on a mix of fantasy and questionable memories recovered during therapy.

But the two alleged victims, now mothers in their 30s, as well as several others who allegedly suffered abuse, are expected to testify that Kimball was a compulsive sexual predator who cloaked his desires under priestly garb.

The Santa Rosa Diocese two years ago apologized to four of Kimball's alleged victims and paid them $1.6 million to settle a sexual abuse lawsuit.

With scandals involving pedophile priests surfacing in parishes across America--the most recent implicates 80 priests in the Boston Archdiocese--some Santa Rosa residents expressed relief that Kimball's trial could end a sad chapter in their diocese's history.

The case is the last in a series of scandals that have forced the financially hobbled diocese to pay out $5 million in recent years to settle sex-related lawsuits involving five priests.

The scandals reached the diocese's highest levels two years ago when a former bishop, G. Patrick Ziemann, resigned after being accused of coercing another priest into having sex with him.

Church officials said the diocese has regained trust by making many reforms, including the creation of a sexual misconduct committee. One sign of growing public support was a successful fund drive that stunned pastors--more money was raised this year than in previous years. And church attendance, officials said, has not dropped off.

"People have gone a long way in their healing process," said Deidre Frontzak, a diocese spokeswoman. "I think we are starting to see people ... move forward and look toward the future."

But others said forgiveness is impossible, and still expressed anger that the diocese failed to act on questionable conduct despite telltale signs of abuse.

"Parents just shrug their shoulders, 'Oh, this couldn't happen in my church,'" said Ellen Brem, one of Kimball's alleged victims.

"Quite frankly, the Catholic Church has a pretty good tally of wrongs ... and for people to blindly follow the Catholic Church ... it's frightening."

Expected to testify at the trial is the diocese's former bishop, who has testified that Kimball admitted to him in the late 1980s that he improperly touched children.

The Rev. John Steinbock said he did not report the alleged abuse to police because he believed Kimball posed no danger at the time.

Prosecutors were able to file charges more than two decades after the alleged offenses because of a 1999 state Supreme Court decision that eliminated the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes.

The children met Kimball when he was widely popular for his hip youth outreach efforts in this San Francisco suburb. Particularly appealing was a radio show he hosted that played pop songs and blended the lyrics with Bible teachings.

His unconventional approach appealed to everyone. Parents credited him with keeping children out of trouble. And his methods proved irresistible to children.

"He was a bit of a rebel himself within the church, and that sort of had appeal with the kids," Brem said. "They thought, 'Hey, I don't get along with my parents. And he doesn't get along with the church.... That's cool.'"

The alleged victims said Kimball turned on them after they had sought his help. Kimball served as an associate pastor at Resurrection Parish and later as the administrator of a high school youth ministry.

Mary Agbayani was 14 in 1977 when Kimball allegedly raped her on the floor of a chapel after a Saturday night Mass. At the preliminary hearing, Agbayani said Kimball's breath smelled fruity from wine and afterward he told her, "You're a woman now."

Numerous sexual encounters followed, Agbayani alleged. After she got pregnant, she said, Kimball arranged for an abortion.

Agbayani said she reported the alleged abuse to a priest, but he dismissed her. The priest, now deceased, allegedly told her that people wouldn't believe her because she was from a troubled family.

The second victim, Brem, was 11 when the alleged abuse began. She said Kimball once took her to the Russian River where they skinny-dipped. And when seeking advice because a boy was pressuring her to have sex, Kimball took her to his bedroom and molested her, she said.

Agbayani and Brem are expected to testify, along with as many as half a dozen others who will detail alleged abuse. Prosecutors said charges were not filed in those cases in part because they took place in other jurisdictions.

 
 

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