Hotline Suit Targets Bishop
Two Women Claim They Were Misled by the Diocese's Advocate
By Dorothy Korber
Sacramento Bee (California)
July 9, 2002
Two women who say they were molested by priests decades ago are suing Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand for fraud and negligence, claiming they were misled and revictimized by the diocese victim's advocate.
The advocate, Nancy Milton, is also named in the suit, which seeks unspecified general and punitive damages. The crux of the complaint is that Milton, who responds to callers who use the diocese sex-abuse hotline, is trained as a lawyer, not a therapist.
The suit was filed last week in Sacramento Superior Court by lawyers Joseph George and Larry Drivon. George said Monday that his clients will drop the lawsuit if the bishop "pulls the plug on the hotline" within 10 days.
He plans to present that offer to the diocese during a press event today. George suggests that sex-abuse victims would be better served by advocates outside the church, such as the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"Nancy Milton is not an advocate for victims, she's an investigator for the diocese," George said. "She uses the hotline to gather information that can be used against the callers in court. Our beef is that Milton did not identify herself as a lawyer and did not guide them to a real advocate."
The Sacramento Diocese has not yet been served with the lawsuit, according to its spokesman, Vicar David Deibel. "I couldn't begin to make an intelligent comment until we've seen the document," Deibel said.
Milton, who was admitted to the California State Bar in 1994, could not be reached for comment on Monday. In May, she told The Bee that she holds a law degree but is on inactive status with the Bar.
"My job is to provide pastoral care, exploring other ways to reach out," Milton said at the time. "I'm not in the whole lawsuit arena. I'm here for pastoral outreach only."
Bishop Weigand created the toll-free hotline in early April, as part of his response to the priest sex-abuse crisis gripping the Roman Catholic Church nationwide.
"Nancy Milton's role is not to counsel, but to do the investigation and to advocate for the person," Weigand said during an interview in April.
The two plaintiffs, both Sacramento residents, are identified in court documents as Joan K., who is 52, and Delores S., who is 64. The second woman is Delores Sharp Nelson, George said, whose criticisms of Milton have been reported in The Bee.
Joan K. alleges that she was molested by Father Edward Boyle in 1967 while he was a priest assigned to a parish in Auburn. She was 17 at the time. Her mother reported the incident to another priest in the diocese, Joan K. states.
Boyle, who died in 1998, was later transferred to Reno and finally to Hawaii, according to the lawsuit.
Joan K. first called the diocese hotline on April 9 to report her allegation and spoke with Milton several times afterward.
Delores Sharp Nelson alleges that she was sexually assaulted in 1957 at Sacred Heart Parish in Sacramento by a priest identified in the lawsuit as Monsignor Lyons. (Lyons died the following year.) Nelson, who was 12 at the time, says Lyons fondled her during confession while she was preparing for confirmation.
As a result, the suit states, Nelson was "ashamed, embarrassed and guilt-ridden. She never disclosed the molestations she suffered until 2002." She made the disclosure to Nancy Milton on April 1.
Both women contend that Milton did not tell them that she was trained as a lawyer and is a member of the California Bar.
Milton was negligent, the suit contends, in failing to provide emotional support or access to professional therapy.
In addition, the suit claims Milton did not disclose that their conversations with her would not be confidential but would be shared with church officials and insurance carriers.
The suit characterizes the bishop's appointment of Milton as a conspiratorial scheme aiming to protect molesting priests, increase charitable contributions and avoid scandal.
"It's the ultimate deceit," George said. "People call expecting to get help from a trained counselor. Instead, they get a church-paid attorney who shrewdly manipulates victims, gaining information that can minimize the church's legal liability and protect its image."
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