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  Three Men Sue Diocese, Alleging Sexual Abuse by Now-Dead Priest

By Dogen Hannah
Contra Costa Times
January 18, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. _ Three men have accused a now-deceased priest of molesting them decades ago in Concord in a lawsuit filed this week against the diocese of Oakland and San Francisco.

The men, whose names were not disclosed in the lawsuit, claim that the Rev. Arthur A. Ribeiro sexually abused them in the early 1960s, when Ribeiro was at Queen of All Saints Church and they were teenagers.

Despite the passage of some 40 years since the alleged abuse occurred and the expiration of a statute of limitations, the men were able to file the lawsuit Thursday because of a law that took effect. Jan. 1 to open a one-year window for such cases.

The men claim that diocese bishops and staff knew, or should have known, that Ribeiro abused them. They also claim the diocese neglected to report the abuse to law enforcement officials and to remove Ribeiro from unsupervised contact with minors.

"We know somebody knew," said Rick Simons, a lawyer for the men. "Somebody had been tolerating (Ribeiro's alleged behavior) for a long time."

The Oakland Diocese does not dispute that the alleged abuse occurred but rejects the assertion that it knew about it early on and did not alert law enforcement, said Sister Barbara Flannery, diocese chancellor.

"We don't have any reason to disbelieve the allegations," Flannery said. "We're terribly sorry that anyone was molested by a priest, and we apologize to the victims who have come forward with this lawsuit."

One of the men, a Lafayette resident, said Friday he told another priest at the church of the alleged abuse soon after it occurred in the fall of 1963. The Contra Costa Times does not print the names of victims of alleged sexual abuse.

The abuse ended after he told the other priest, the man said, but it left him feeling ashamed and guilty, sapped his self-esteem well into adulthood, and contributed to 13 years of drug abuse.

"I don't necessarily consider this a molestation," he said. "I consider it a rape."

The man said he first looked into suing Ribeiro in the late 1970s but the statute of limitations had expired. His interest in suing revived when he learned of the new law.

Flannery said the Oakland Diocese in 1997 or 1998 received the first of what became multiple sexual abuse allegations against Ribeiro, who had retired in the Monterey Diocese. That diocese barred Ribeiro from conducting Mass, as he had been occasionally doing, but did not alert law enforcement, she said.

The Oakland Diocese later reported the allegations against Ribeiro _ along with sexual abuse allegations against 22 other priests, some of whom had died _ to law enforcement after reviewing its files for such cases, she said.

Ribeiro, who died in 2000, also served as a priest in Lafayette, Oakland, Castro Valley and other Bay Area communities.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, seeks compensation of an unspecified amount for medical expenses, lost earnings, general damages and more. It has the potential to yield a multimillon-dollar judgment, such as a similar lawsuit filed by one of lawyers for the three men.

More importantly, Simons said, the lawsuit seeks to force the diocese to disclose alleged secret files it has on Ribeiro and other priests accused of sexual misconduct.

"It's for the bishop's eyes only," Simons said. "That's where the scandal is kept."

Flannery dismissed that assertion: "There's no secret file on Arthur Ribeiro."

 
 

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