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  9 O.C. Clergy Cited in Complaints
The Two Filings Friday Are Part of an Estimated 800 Expected Statewide by Dec. 31 That Allege Sexual Abuse

By Theresa Walker and Larry Welborn
Orange County Register
December 24, 2003

Nine clergy who served at parishes in Orange County were named in two civil complaints filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, part of an estimated 800 complaints expected to be filed statewide by Dec. 31 that allege sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests and brothers.

Lawyers are filing a rush of complaints before a state law that allows the suits expires. The law waived for one year the statute of limitations on molestations that allegedly occurred as far back as the 1930s.

Father Joe Fenton, spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, said Friday that church officials have been expecting a number of complaints to be filed before the end of the year.

Fenton declined to comment on the latest allegations because he had not seen the complaints. But he said of the nine Orange County clergy named, "Some of these people may be dead."

About 650 of the complaints to be filed statewide involve priests who served in Southern California dioceses, and as many as 100 will be filed in Orange County, said Raymond Boucher. His Los Angeles law firm is the liaison for dozens of lawyers handling the sexual allegation complaints.

Boucher said attorneys began filing the complaints in August, as a precaution in case mediation talks with officials from the Catholic Church break down.

The filing deadline of Dec. 31 was set by a state court judge.

Irvine lawyer Katherine K. Freberg said she has filed lawsuits on behalf of 18 accusers in Orange County this month, out of her case list of 137 statewide.

And Costa Mesa attorney John C. Manly said his office has filed 84 cases statewide this month against the Catholic Church, including 30 in Orange County.

"We have a case against priests in almost every parish in Orange County over the past 20 years," Manly said. "It's evidence of the scope of the problem and the fact that the bishops of Orange County knew that they had a huge problem and rather than protect the children, they lied and covered it up."

One of the complaints filed Friday by Boucher's office involves Father John Lord, who was a priest at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove for six years before he died of complications from AIDS in 1989. Lord, known as Father "Jack," was the first priest in the Diocese of Orange acknowledged to have died from an AIDS-related illness.

The complaint does not name the accuser, but lawyers representing the man said the circumstances of Lord's death led them to file a separate complaint rather than include him in the complaint naming the other eight Orange County clergy:

"He (Lord) not only sexually molested our client but recklessly endangered his life," said Tony DeMarco, an attorney with the firm of Kiesel, Boucher and Larson.

It doesn't matter if Lord or other priests involved in the allegations are dead, DeMarco said, because the church is the defendant. "The institution was more concerned with sheltering the perpetrators and avoiding scandal than protecting the children," he said.

Manly said that despite the enormous numbers, there has never been an incident in which the Diocese of Orange County reported a priest or a lay employee to the police for molestation. "And that is amazing," he said.

He said attorneys will probably return to mediation in an attempt to settle cases without going to trial. But he said he did not have confidence that settlements can be reached.

"We do not believe that the bishops want to do the right thing," he said. "The only way they will do the right thing is at the point of a legal gun."

 
 

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