Suits Charge Two Bay Area Priests with Molestation
One Man Served at Several East Bay Churches with Alleged Offenses in Early 1980s
By Josh Richman
August 9, 2002
A Belmont priest was placed on administrative leave Thursday, two days after a lawsuit accused him of child molestation and more than four months after the Archdiocese of San Francisco heard the alleged victim's claims.
The civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court claims the Rev. Daniel E. Carter -- now pastor of Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary -- molested a girl in the late 1970s while teaching at San Francisco's Notre Dame des Victoires Parochial School before his 1979 ordination.
Another lawsuit filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court claims the Rev. Robert Ponciroli, now retired and living in Florida, molested a boy in 1980 and 1981 while he was at St. Ignatius Church in Antioch, one of his many East Bay assignments in his 30 years as a priest that included stints in Brentwood and Byron.
Calls to Carter's Belmont office and Ponciroli's Brooksville, Fla., home weren't returned Thursday.
Both lawsuits seek unspecified monetary damages, but Stockton attorney Laurence Drivon -- representing the unidentified plaintiffs in both cases -- said Thursday that Carter's case was urgent because of his continuing contact with parishioners.
"The most important thing, step one, above everything else ... is the removal of that priest from access to children, and it needs to be done now -- they have a pedophile in a parish," Drivon said. "They need to take him out of there until things can be sorted out."
Carter's leave was announced in a news release issued by the archdiocese soon after Drivon's news conferences in Oakland and San Francisco.
"This action should not in any way imply a judgment as to the innocence or guilt of Father Carter in this affair; rather it ensures that this public allegation not be an obstacle to effective pastoral ministry," the release said, adding Carter denies the abuse allegation and intends to appeal his removal from duty.
Drivon said Carter's accuser is a San Francisco woman in her early 30s who works as "an investigator/social worker-type person ... and who has been dealing with this in silence, secrecy and shame for many years."
David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests [SNAP], was at Drivon's news conferences and called the archdiocese's failure to quickly remove Carter from ministry "a clear, egregious violation of everything the bishops promised in Dallas" during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual meeting in June.
Terrie Light of Hayward, SNAP's northwest coast regional director, said her nieces and nephews attend Immaculate Heart in Belmont, and relatives have told her Carter has had private, one-on-one access to children there.
Spokesman Maurice Healy said the archdiocese's Sexual Abuse Review Board -- including lay men and women with expertise in psychology, social work, medicine and law -- have been reviewing the woman's claim against Carter since March. The evidence against Carter wasn't clear-cut enough to warrant immediate placement on leave, Healy said; the review board only recently recommended such action to Archbishop William J. Levada.
The archdiocese's news release said the allegation was referred months ago to the San Francisco District Attorney's office; that office declined comment Thursday.
Since being ordained in 1979, Carter was at San Francisco's All Hallows Church from 1980 to 1989; at Half Moon Bay's Our Lady of the Pillar Church from 1990 to 1995; at San Francisco's St. James Church from 1996 to 2001; and at Immaculate Heart since last year.
Drivon's client in Ponciroli's case is an Arizona man in his early 30s. Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the Diocese of Oakland, said Thursday that man "called me on March 1 and reported his alleged abuse by Father Ponciroli. I called the Antioch Police Department the very same day and gave a report of the case, and I also recommended to him that he call the police, which he did."
Both she and the Rev. Paul Schmidt, the diocese's clergy services director, have been interviewed by Antioch police about Ponciroli, she added. Antioch Police Lt. Rick Marchoke said Thursday the investigation is ongoing.
After being ordained in 1969, Ponciroli was at San Leandro's St. Leander Church in 1970; at Oakland's Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales from 1971 to 1974; at Richmond's St. Cornelius Church in 1975; at Castro Valley's Our Lady of Grace Church from 1976 to 1979; and at St. Ignatius in Antioch from 1980 through 1983. Later, he was at Oakland's Sacred Heart Church in 1985, at Brentwood's Immaculate Heart of Mary Church from 1987 to 1994, and at Byron's St. Anne's Church in 1995.
Flannery said the diocese pulled Ponciroli from ministry when a sexual abuse allegation was made against him in 1995; after that, he was in residence but on administrative leave without any parishioner contact at Oakland's St. Cyril's Church until his 1998 retirement. This earlier abuse allegation -- dating back 20 years to Ponciroli's time at St. Cornelius in Richmond -- was reported to police, too, she said.
"Early in 1997, I called the Richmond Police Department and reported it, and at that time the police officer told me ... the case was beyond the statute of limitations and could not be prosecuted," Flannery said Thursday. "I think if I called today, it would get a different hearing."
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