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  Litigant Wants Info on Priest
Suspect in Child Molestation Was Slain in 1977

By Patrick S. Pemberton
San Luis Obispo Tribune
March 29, 2003

An Arroyo Grande man says he is suing the Catholic church to learn more about the priest who allegedly molested him nearly three decades ago.

But information, he's finding, isn't easy to come by -- in part because the priest was murdered in 1977.

"I've been asking since 1999 what happened to Father Alberto," he said.

The 44-year-old man, who asked that his identity not be revealed, filed suit against the Diocese of Monterey earlier this month.

According to the suit, which lists the plaintiff only as "John Doe," Father Alberto Battagliola sexually abused him in 1974. At the time, the alleged victim was a 14-year-old altar boy and Battagliola was a priest at the San Luis Obispo Mission.

Kevin Drabinski, a spokesperson for the diocese, said he couldn't comment on the details of the suit, which was filed in Monterey County. But he said the diocese has cooperated with the law in all cases of alleged abuse and is now focusing on preventing future sex crimes.

"Although this case stems from many years ago," he said, "the diocese is aware that the trauma from sexual abuse can linger for a long time."

'I still believe in God'

Battagliola, a native of Argentina, came to the Mission in the early 1970s and had frequently visited his alleged victim's home. In October of 1974, the victim said, Battagliola took him for a drive, got him drunk and had sex with him on a hill overlooking Cuesta Park.

The boy allegedly wound up with a case of gonorrhea as a result of that encounter. And when classmates discovered he had a sexually transmitted disease, he said, his reputation was ruined.

"I went to the bottom of the barrel," he said. "I was outcast."

Before he was molested, he said, he was a popular student -- a wrestler and a football player with a positive future. Afterward, he said, he quit sports and began cutting school.

At one time, he said, he wanted to be a priest. But he hasn't even been to church since 1974.

"I still believe in God. It's just that after all this has happened, it's hard for me to go to the Catholic Church and believe what these guys are saying."

After years of guilt, shame and mood swings, he said, he became more determined to learn about Battagliola after his wife was killed in a car accident.

He didn't want to reveal his name, he said, because he is concerned how the exposure would impact his 78-year-old mother. But he said his mind won't rest until he learns more about Battagliola.

"I'm not the only one," he said. "I know that."

Seeking corroboration

Finding others will also be key to the success of his suit. In order to extend the normal six-year statute of limitations in molest cases, plaintiffs have to have corroborating evidence.

But the passage of time can impact the ability to obtain such evidence.

Just this week, the Monterey County District Attorney's Office announced that it could not prosecute 12 sexual abuse cases the diocese turned over last year due, in part, to victims relocating, lack of evidence and the deaths of witnesses and alleged molesters.

In the Battagliola case, the alleged perpetrator has been deceased for more than a quarter of a decade.

In 1977, at the age of 59, Battagliola was found brutally murdered in a San Francisco hotel room. The crime is still unsolved, though police know Battagliola checked into the room with a 20-something male, who left behind a bloody fingerprint.

Had he not been murdered, Battagliola would have likely had more recent victims to corroborate the abuse story, said Dave Drivon, the plaintiff's attorney.

The suit represents the first civil case involving a priest from this county. Another former priest, Gregory Kareta, 79, is facing criminal charges of molesting a boy in Pismo Beach around the same time.

Changes in the church

The Catholic Church has acknowledged problems with priests molesting children nationwide.

"We are not the church that we were 30 and 40 years ago," Drabinski said. "We get it now."

Lawsuits around the country allege that priests who molested children were allowed to continue working even after the abuse had been reported to church officials.

Today, Drabinski said, the diocese has a "no-tolerance" policy.

"One incident of sexual abuse regarding a minor is too many," he said.

Those planning on entering the priesthood are screened, and an assistance coordinator now responds to allegations immediately. If an accusation comes forth, he said, it's reported to local law enforcement. Meanwhile, an outside review board assesses the allegations and makes internal recommendations.

"Now the awareness has increased," Drabinski said. "We're committed to respecting the dignity of the people who have experienced sexual abuse."

 
 

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