Two Who Allege Priests' Abuse Say They Must Sue for Justice

By Susan Gembrowski and Sandi Dolbee
San Diego Union-Tribune
August 20, 2002

Two men who filed lawsuits against the local Roman Catholic diocese last week, alleging they were sexually abused by priests decades ago, are suing because they are disgusted with how the church has dealt with these cases.

"I would hope that the institution that hurt me gets hurt back," said Michael Shoemaker, who has accused now-deceased priest John Daly of molesting him when he was a teen-ager in 1977. "Maybe this hurt they receive back will be a little reminder to them to keep a closer watch on their associates."

The second man, who only wanted to be identified as Ralph S., accused the church of protecting pedophiles at the expense of parishioners.

"The pattern they have of sweeping this abomination under the rug is ridiculous," said the man, who alleges he was 9 when the Rev. George Lally molested him. Lally apparently no longer is in the priesthood.

In separate lawsuits filed in San Diego County Superior Court on Wednesday, the men claim the diocese failed to protect them and "to prevent future acts of molestation." These are the first such lawsuits to hit San Diego's diocese in the national scandal over priests sexually abusing minors. Others are expected.

While the lawsuits do not list the defendants by name, attorneys for the plaintiffs said they include priests Daly and Lally and the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

In these types of childhood sexual abuse claims, it is standard procedure not to list defendants' names until the court rules the allegations have been corroborated, said Raymond Boucher of Kiesel Boucher & Larson, the Beverly Hills law firm handling the two lawsuits. But that doesn't mean the law firm can't talk about the cases and identify those being sued.

A spokeswoman for the diocese said that since church officials have not been served with the lawsuits, they would have no comment.

Shoemaker, now a 41-year-old Kansas resident, said he was molested at St. Joseph Church in Holtville after Daly gave him and a friend a ride. Shoemaker, 16, and his friend, 18, were hitchhiking in the rain in El Centro when Daly offered to take them to a local church to spend the night.

"We were very sleep deprived. All we wanted to do was get out of our wet clothes, get a shower and get some sleep," Shoemaker said in an interview yesterday.

He said he awoke to find Daly orally copulating him. He yelled for his friend and the two left immediately. He reported it to Holtville police. Daly was arrested but never charged, according to the arresting officer, who in an interview last week corroborated Shoemaker's story.

"My assumption was he had been prosecuted," said Shoemaker, who left Holtville a few days later. "I never realized he had never been prosecuted."

Shoemaker said he began looking into the case in April, after seeing news reports about similar allegations of abuse across the country. "I had pretty well put it behind me, but I kept seeing all these other victims on the news. It kind of rekindled some old anger."

Daly, who was ordained in 1951, left St. Joseph's shortly after the incident. He died in 1989 after serving at several parishes in the dioceses of San Diego and San Bernardino. The San Bernardino region split off from San Diego in 1978 to become a separate diocese.

The other plaintiff in last week's lawsuits, Ralph S., said he was molested at St. Mary Church in El Centro when Lally, who was working as an associate there, called a practice session for altar boys.

"I ended up being the only altar boy who showed up that day," he said. He would not discuss details. "That's so personal that it's very hard to talk about," he said in an interview Saturday.

Ralph S. said he reported the attack to the church's pastor, who has since died, and Lally was transferred.

Lally served at St. Mary's from 1970 to 1972, according to Monsignor Thomas Vidra, the current pastor. Little is known about him beyond that, except that by the mid-1970s he was no longer listed as a priest in either the local or national Catholic directories.

The revelations of sexual abuse of minors by priests have rocked the country since January, with outraged Catholics in cities such as Boston demanding the removal of top leaders for moving priests from parish to parish and covering up their transgressions.

"The church will continue to avoid this at all costs," said Ralph S. "They don't fess up to what happened."

Shoemaker put it this way: "I got hurt. They don't care. OK, it's pay back time."


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