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  Priest's Lawyer Complains about Handling of Case
Attorney Takes Nun, Police to Task

By Lisa Fernandez
San Jose Mercury News
April 18, 2002

A defense attorney for an East Bay priest charged with child molestation lashed out Wednesday against police and an Oakland nun for revealing too much about his client's private life and "coercing" a statement from him.

William Gagen, attorney for Robert Freitas, 57, an inactive priest with the Oakland Diocese, also disagreed with police contentions that his client confessed during a secretly taped two-hour meeting with the alleged victim.

Freitas was arrested April 8 after a monthlong police investigation into allegations that he molested a 15-year-old Fremont boy 23 years ago.

"Far too much has already been revealed," Gagen said to reporters Wednesday outside the Fremont Hall of Justice, shortly after a judge set a June 24 preliminary hearing.

Freitas, who is out on $50,000 bail, stood silently behind Gagen, wearing a gray suit and tie, hands in his pockets, alongside his brother and sister.

Gagen criticized Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the Oakland Diocese, for turning over Freitas' personnel file and employment history to police, which indicated the priest received "intensive therapy" for sexual improprieties with two young boys between 1979 and 1983.

One of those cases settled out of court for $50,000, according to the diocese. The other decided not to pursue legal action. No criminal charges were filed.

Freitas is not denying those two inappropriate relationships, his lawyer said, but he "had a problem and dealt with it."

"He's not the type of priest you've been reading about," Gagen said. "He's not a re-offender."

Flannery was unavailable for comment Wednesday. But she has been praised by police, the diocese and many sexual-abuse survivors for turning over priest misconduct cases to authorities. She is reviewing about 20 internal cases and, aside from the Freitas file, has turned two others over to East Bay authorities.

Gagen also criticized a police report detailing the 1979 alleged molestation of the teenage boy when Freitas was a priest at Santa Paula Church in Fremont.

The report says Freitas "confessed" to the 23-year-old sexual acts during a secretly taped conversation at a Fremont cafe at the end of March. Gagen called the conversation "coercive" and "deceptive" and hinted that he might challenge its legality.

"I've listened to that two-hour tape," Gagen said. "And I'm extremely disturbed by the tone of the interview."

Fremont police spokeswoman Sheila Tajima-Shadle said state law allows authorities pursuing a criminal investigation to secretly tape conversations, even though the average person may not do so. Also, state law requires that whatever the district attorney includes in the court file, along with attached police reports, be made public on the day a defendant is arraigned.

Freitas, who entered seminary at age 14 and has worked with AIDS patients for a decade, entered a not-guilty plea last week.

 
 

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