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  Accused Priest Receives Support
Parishioners Rally with Petition for Gill, Targeted in Abuse Lawsuit

By Alan Schnepf
San Bernardino Sun
October 1, 2002

Duane Yavelek has known the Rev. Paul Gill for years and is certain of one thing: The accusation that Gill molested an altar boy in the 1970s is false.

"There's more of a chance that the pope could do this than Father Gill,' said Yavelek, a Colton resident who helped organize a petition proclaiming the priest's innocence.

Another petition organizer, 79-year-old Forrest Cathey of Redlands, feels the same way.

"He looked me in the eye and said he didn't do it, and I believe him,' Cathey said. "And I'm not alone.'

No, Cathey is not alone. About 400 other people have signed the petition, which states that the signers are "dismayed and outraged over the allegations,' and that "we know he will be completely exonerated, and we expect the same amount of published information of his innocence be disseminated as the false information brought by his accuser.'

Yavelek said newspaper accounts of the allegations actually may have made Gill feel better because he no longer has to live with the allegations privately.

"Once this came out in the newspaper, he got thousands and thousands of letters of support,' Yavelek said. "It's not something he has to live with alone.'

The allegations became public when the former altar boy, now an adult, filed a lawsuit against Gill last month. The suit alleges that Gill started molesting the boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Lakeside near San Diego.

A lawyer for the alleged victim said the abuse continued during a cross-country trip the boy took with Gill after the priest had been transferred to St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Blythe in 1977.

Gill, ordained as a priest in 1966, was transferred to St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Loma Linda in the early 1980s. Many of the petition signers remember Gill from his time at that parish before he retired in 1998.

Cathey was an Episcopalian when he met Gill at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Medical Center in Loma Linda. They were both undergoing experimental high blood-pressure testing there, and it was a transitional period for Cathey. He was considering converting to Roman Catholicism. He liked Gill's company at the hospital, but for weeks he didn't even know Gill was a priest.

Gill, Cathey said, often came to the hospital in Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt. It wasn't until a nurse said, "You're next, father' that Cathey realized Gill was pastor of a nearby Catholic parish.

Gill invited Cathey to St. Joseph the Worker Church and Cathey attended Mass there every day.

Gill called Cathey into his office one day and asked him series of questions about the faith.

"He patted me on the knee and said, 'OK, kid, you're a Catholic. Come over and go to Communion tomorrow," Cathey said.

Cathey, like Yavelek, said there is no way Gill molested anybody.

"A lot of people loved that man,' Cathey said. "He's been very good to a lot of people, and they're going to fight for him.'

Jeffrey Anderson, the attorney representing the alleged victim in the civil case, said he's represented 600 victims of clergy abuse and that such support is typical, even if a priest is guilty.

"It's pretty common, predictable and something that always seems to happen,' Anderson said. "These are men who are seemingly very charming and caring and may well be both, but they're also molesters,' Anderson said. "He belongs in prison, not the priesthood.'

Officials at the San Diego County District Attorney's Office said criminal charges are not yet being considered against Gill because no case has been submitted to them by law enforcement.

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, said the support for Gill is uplifting, but Lincoln was hesitant to say Gill is wrongly accused.

The San Diego Diocese has previously confirmed that Gill was on a list of names turned over to authorities as possible perpetrators of abuse.

"It is gratifying to see the support for Father Gill,' Lincoln said. "However, our diocese must await the results of the police investigation prior to making any determination regarding Father Gill's ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino.'

On Tuesday, prosecutors said a decision on whether to file criminal charges against the Rev. Saul Ayala, another priest accused of sexual abuse with minors, was still pending.

Ayala was recently sued by two women who say he abused them when he baby-sat them in Hesperia. At the time, Ayala was assistant pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in San Bernardino.

Another priest from the San Bernardino Diocese, Monsignor Patrick O'Keeffe, has already been charged with 15 abuse-related counts. He remains at large, said Susan Mickey, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.

 
 

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