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  Accused Priest Had Admitted Prior Abuse
Ample Evidence to Try Former Pismo Clergyman, Judge Rules at Hearing

By Patrick S. Pemberton
San Luis Obispo Tribune
March 25, 2003

Church personnel records show that a Catholic priest had been publicly accused of molestation once before he allegedly sexually abused a boy in Pismo Beach, a detective testified Monday.

But after admitting to molestation in both cases, court records show, the priest was allowed to continue working.

During a preliminary hearing, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy ruled that there was enough evidence to pursue a trial against Gregory Kareta, 79, who was a priest at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Pismo Beach from 1971 to 1978.

While Duffy's ruling sets the stage for future court dates, Kareta's fate could hinge on a pending U.S. Supreme Court case set to be heard later this month.

Kareta faces two counts of child molestation that date back to at least to the mid-1970s. The victim, who was 10 years old when the crimes allegedly began, said Kareta molested him several times when he stayed with the priest in a rectory behind the church.

The victim had allegedly told church officials about the molestation in 1985, but he was told not to report the crimes to police.

During Monday's hearing, Kim Berlin, an investigator for the District Attorney's Office, testified that she found evidence of another possible victim in Kareta's personnel records.

In that case, Kareta had allegedly molested a boy when he was pastor at St. Josaphat's Basilica, a church in Milwaukee, Wis., in the mid-1960s.

In letters from Kareta's file, that victim accused the priest of molestation. Sometime later, Berlin testified, Kareta wrote to the victim, apologizing.

Although that victim said he accepted Kareta's apology and the church's response, the prosecution plans to use that witness to bolster its case against Kareta.

Under a 1994 state law that extends the statute of limitations for some child molestation cases, corroborating evidence is needed.

The District Attorney's Office says it has three corroborating witnesses -- the man from Milwaukee and two cousins of the Pismo Beach victim, who said Kareta tried to molest them as well.

Kareta attorney Adrian Andrade said the law makes it problematic to put forth a defense because the passage of time adversely affects the evidence.

In Kareta's case, two witnesses -- one for the prosecution and one for the defense -- have since died.

During the preliminary hearing, Duffy denied Andrade's motion challenging the law. But the Supreme Court case will offer a wider challenge.

Marion Stogner, a Contra Costa County man charged with molestations that allegedly occurred 50 years ago, is contesting the law, which was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1999.

The nation's top court is set to begin hearing oral arguments on Stogner's case March 31. If it decides the California law is unconstitutional, said Deputy District Attorney Larry Greene, it would "effectively put an end to the prosecution" of Kareta.

In the meantime, his office will continue to pursue the case, now set for arraignment April 21.

 
 

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