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  Late Church Official Named in Suit Alleging Girl's Rape
Woman, Now 45, Also Alleges Abuse by Three Others

By Greg Moran
San Diego Union-Tribune
October 15, 2003

A former chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and administrator at the University of San Diego was named in a civil suit yesterday alleging he raped a schoolgirl in 1972. Monsignor I.B. Eagen, who died of cancer in 1997 at age 67, was included in the latest of what is expected to be close to 100 lawsuits charging sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. The suit, filed on behalf of a now 45-year-old woman, also alleges abuse by a nun who worked at a boarding school called Nazareth House that for years operated near the San Diego Mission in Mission Valley. The suit also says the woman was abused by a caretaker at Nazareth House, identified as Richard Gordon, and later at University High School by a priest, Father Robert Buchanan, who served as a counselor at the school in San Diego. The defendants in the suit are the diocese, University High School and Nazareth House.

That facility, now a home for retired clergy, was once a boarding school and residence for children whose impoverished families placed them there for care and education. Irwin Zalkin, the attorney for the woman and about two dozen others who are suing or planning to sue the diocese, called Nazareth House a "cesspool of pedophilia" during a news conference yesterday. Zalkin also filed a suit yesterday on behalf of a man who said he was physically and sexually abused at Nazareth House in the early 1970s. The claimants were not identified by name in the lawsuits, and it is the policy of The San Diego Union-Tribune not to identify those alleging sexual abuse, unless they consent to be named. The woman's suit contends Eagen raped her in 1972. At the time he was the parish priest for Mission San Diego de Alcala, which was near Nazareth House. Eagen was a much-admired cleric who had served as chancellor of the San Diego diocese, a top administrative position, from 1968 to 1989. Beginning in 1992, he served as the vice president for mission and ministry, the centerpiece of Catholic education in San Diego. Rod Valdivia, spokesman for the Catholic diocese, said he had not seen the suit and declined to comment on the allegations.

He did say there had not been any other allegations of sexual abuse by Eagen in the past. "Until we have a chance to read what these accusations are, it would be premature for us to formulate some kind of extensive comment," Valdivia said. The woman had come to Nazareth House in the 1969-70 school year with two siblings, according to the suit.

They were brought there by their widowed mother, who could no longer support the family. She gave custody of the children to the facility, run by a religious order called The Sisters of Nazareth. During the woman's four years there, the suit claims, she was abused, beaten and tortured by Sister Bridgette.

The suit describes a nightmarish environment, where she was locked overnight in a windowless room known as "solitary confinement." The nuns held "mock trials," where resident children were forced to testify against each other and sentence the guilty to solitary confinement, according to the suit. The suit alleges Sister Bridgette sexually molested the woman during the 1971-72 school year.

In the summer of that year, when she was 14, she began to work in the residence for the priests. There, the suit says she came into contact with Eagen.

He became a "father figure" to her and she began to spend more time in the residence. One day in the summer, the suit contends Eagen invited her to his private room for a talk.

Instead, she said she was raped on his bed, then told never to tell anyone. The nun and caretaker have both died, Zalkin said, and he was unsure what happened to Buchanan. Zalkin, of Del Mar, and other local attorneys who have clients alleging abuse by Catholic clergy are estimating that more than 80 additional suits will be filed against the diocese between now and the end of the year. All the cases will be transferred to Los Angeles, where all the cases alleging abuse by the clergy filed in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties are being heard. There, a judge will attempt to settle the civil claims through mediation sessions.

Greg Moran: (619) 542-4586; greg.moran@uniontrib.com

 
 

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