Salesian High Hid Abuse, Man Says
* the Alleged Victim, 48, Sues Richmond School, Saying Officials Conspired to Cover up Molestation in the Late '60s and Early '70s

By Karl Fischer
July 2, 2003

RICHMOND - A 48-year-old Contra Costa County man has sued Salesian High School for protecting a priest he says repeatedly molested him when he was a student at the Catholic campus in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The man, referred to as "John Doe 17" in the suit filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court, claims school administration and the church conspired to hide widespread sexual abuse of students at the school between 1969 and 1973, when he attended.

His attorneys said Tuesday the victim was molested by the Rev. Steve Whelan, but they said they had not located the priest.

A priest by the same name now working at Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco said Tuesday he had no comment related to the allegations. His superior confirmed the man taught at Salesian during the time period mentioned in the suit.

The Rev. Nick Reina, president of Salesian High, said he could not comment on the complaint because he had not seen it.

"This young 14-year-old was the subject of continuous abuse and stalking in the high school, in the boys club," attorney Rick Simons said. "When he went to complain - he was met with a wall of resistance."

Simons said the plaintiff wished to remain anonymous to protect his privacy. He decided to file the suit, attorneys said, because a recent Supreme Court decision struck down a California law that allowed prosecutors to charge child molestations within a year of being reported to authorities, regardless of when the crimes occurred.

"My suspicion is that the Supreme Court decision has a lot to do with it, a lot of anger was generated by it," Reina said. "The best thing I or anyone else can do is try to be truthful and try to defuse some of the anger."

The suit refers to all defendants as "James Roe," but the list includes the Catholic Diocese of the Oakland, the Salesian Order, Salesian High, Oakland diocese Bishop John Cummins, Whelan and several priests who worked at the school.

That roster includes Salvatore Billante and Bernard Dabbene, both former Salesian instructors and priests linked to molestation allegations.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said Whelan, Billante and Dabbene were part of a "ring of child molesters" that conspired to squelch complaints and hide their crimes from police.

"The Salesian fathers that ran this high school have a long, sordid history of protecting and providing safe haven to priests, brothers and teachers who are child molesters," said Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who specializes in molestation suits against the Catholic Church.

Dabbene pleaded guilty in 2001 to molesting a 17-year-old boy he picked up in San Francisco's Mission District in 2000. He received a suspended jail sentence and was removed from his priestly duties.

Billante was one of dozens of Catholic priests released from Bay Area jails last week after the Supreme Court decision freed those charged or convicted under the California law. San Francisco prosecutors had charged him in connection with the molestation of two boys at a youth camp decades ago.

It was not the first time molestation allegations surfaced at Salesian. Last year, Richmond police investigated at least two claims based on recovered memories from separate victims, police reports show. Neither investigation resulted in charges because of a lack of evidence.

In a May 2002 report, a 57-year-old Washington state man said Dabbene molested him in September 1959 at the school, then called Salesian Seminary.

Richmond police also investigated the claims of a 58-year-old Encino man last October who claimed two priests kissed and fondled him on several occasions from 1958 to 1962 at Salesian.

Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or


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