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  Diocese Named in Abuse Suit

By Alex Friedrich
Monterey County Herald
March 15, 2003

A San Luis Obispo man has sued the Diocese of Monterey, alleging it did nothing to stop a priest from molesting him when he was an altar boy in the early 1970s.

The 44-year-old man, listed only as "John Doe" in the lawsuit, claims that the Rev. Orlando Battagliola, who died about 1977, sexually abused him at Mission San Luis Obispo De Tolosa when the boy was in the ninth grade.

The suit, filed Thursday in Monterey County Superior Court, asks for unspecified damages. It contains few details, and attorneys offered little elaboration.

Diocesan spokesman Kevin Drabinski said he would not comment Friday because church officials had not seen the suit.

Rick Simons, a Hayward attorney for the San Luis Obispo man, said his client "hopes this lawsuit and other suits will protect kids from going through what he went through."

Battagliola also was the boy's godfather, said Dave Drivon of Stockton, another attorney for the plaintiff.

For several months, Battagliola would ply the boy with alcohol and take him for rides around town, Drivon said. During the rides, he said, Battagliola engaged in sexual activity with the boy. Drivon would not say exactly what happened.

Church officials had reasons to know of the abuse, the attorneys said, declining to elaborate. The suit claims diocesan officials concealed Battagliola's abuse from law enforcement, the boy's family and other parishioners, and allowed him to continue serving as priest.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff has suffered emotional damage that has prompted him to seek psychological therapy.

He told his parents about the molestation only a few years ago, Drivon said.

It is the second lawsuit in a month to be filed against a dead diocesan priest. On Feb. 27, Santa Cruz County sheriff's spokesman Kim Allyn and three others sued the diocese for $10 million. They claim the Rev. Patrick McHugh, who died more than 20 years ago, molested them while they served under him as altar boys.

Although both suits are based on claims that are decades old, they are being filed under a new state law that suspends the statute of limitations in child abuse cases.

The diocese has previously quietly settled several claims of sexual misconduct made against its priests over the past quarter-century.

Last June, the diocese provided Monterey County prosecutors with information about nine old cases of alleged child molestation against priests and other church employees. It is poised for the possibility of criminal charges against one or more clerics associated with the diocese.

Simons and Drivon said Battagliola was listed in the Official Catholic Directory beginning in 1964. He served several parishes, they said, including the Soledad Mission from 1966 to 1977.

From 1972 through 1974, he was also assigned to the church in San Luis Obispo, they said. His name reportedly appears in the Official Catholic Directory under several spellings, including Battalgio. He is believed to have died in 1977.

Ironically, the head of the diocese during the time of the alleged incident was Bishop Harry Clinch, who died March 8 in Santa Cruz. His funeral Mass, celebrated Friday, drew about 500 people, including Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles.

Filing the lawsuit the day before the memorial service "was totally coincidental, though one might wonder if there was some providential involvement," Simons said.

The visiting Mahony has also been caught up in the church scandal. He is refusing to release to Los Angeles prosecutors and victims' attorneys any documents that detail his communications with priests.

 
 

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