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  Abuse in '70s at Mission Alleged
Slo Man Claims Priest, Now Dead, Molested Him

San Luis Obispo Tribune
March 16, 2003

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

The 44-year-old man, listed only as "John Doe" in the lawsuit, claims that the Rev. Orlando Battagliola sexually abused him at the Mission when the SLO man was a high school freshman. Battagliola served at the Mission from 1972-74 and died in 1977.

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

The lawsuit is believed to be the first in which someone has sued the diocese alleging misconduct by a San Luis Obispo County priest. The suit was filed under a 1994 state law that suspends the typical six-year statute of limitations in child abuse cases.

Diocesan spokesman Kevin Drabinski declined comment about the case Friday because church officials had not seen the suit. The Rev. Jerry Maher, the San Luis Obispo Mission's pastor, did not return phone messages Saturday.

Battagliola was listed in the Official Catholic Directory beginning in 1964, attorneys said. He served several parishes, they said, including the Soledad Mission from 1966 to 1977, with a three-year stint in San Luis Obispo.

Cal Poly professor Dan Krieger, who has attended the Mission since the 1970s and writes a weekly history column for The Tribune, said he wasn't surprised to hear about the molestation accusations.

"In terms of random occurrence, it was bound to happen here at one point or another," said Krieger, who met Battagliola but didn't know much about him.

"(The Catholic) Church has a problem with male celibacy. People need to have some kind of sexual outlet -- nobody's a superman."

Meanwhile, other Mission parishioners were shocked to hear the news of the lawsuit as they walked into their Saturday evening Mass. When approached separately by a reporter, six parishioners declined comment.

Two elderly men who have attended the church for more than 30 years said they did not believe the molestation claims and characterized the case as a stunt for attorneys to make money. The men, who did not provide their names, said they had never heard of Battagliola.

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

For several months, Battagliola would ply the boy with alcohol and take him for rides around town, said Dave Drivon of Stockton, another attorney for the plaintiff.

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.

The San Luis Obispo man's identity is only known by the diocese, attorneys, judge and mental health officials.

"What we often learn is that one person comes forward, and when they do, other people come forward," Simons 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.

The diocese has 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.

Nationwide, more than 1,200 priests are facing charges of sexual misconduct with minors, according to a recent New York Times survey done in the wake of the scandal affecting the Catholic Church.

While the latest suit is believed to be the first civil case involving an ex-priest in San Luis Obispo County, a former Pismo Beach priest last month was charged with two counts of child molestation that allegedly occurred with an alter boy 30 years ago. Gregory Kareta, who could face jail time if convicted, has yet to enter a plea in the case.

 
 

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