Diocese Agrees to Pay Woman $3.3 Million to Settle Sex-Abuse Case

By Donna Horowitz
Los Angeles Times
April 23, 2005

Oakland - A woman molested by a priest when she was a teen won a $3.3-million settlement from the Diocese of Santa Rosa, attorneys for the woman said Friday.

Attorneys for Roberta Saum, 44, called it the nation's largest settlement for a female victim in a clergy sexual-abuse case.

The agreement, announced on the courthouse steps in Oakland, was reached before the case was to go to trial May 7.

Saum, who lives in Placer County and is a software engineer for Hewlett-Packard Co., said the former priest, Donald Kimball, began a sexual relationship with her when she was 15 and that it lasted six years.

Saum said she was in foster care when Kimball, a former youth minister known for using rock 'n' roll to relay his religious message, took advantage of her.

"I was a very troubled teenager," Saum said. "I went to church for help. Instead of getting help, I was abused."

Saum, who never knew her biological father, said she regarded Kimball as a father figure and consulted him for advice on life decisions. She said the abuse affected her future relationships, saying her first marriage ended in divorce after three years.

The turning point in her relationship with Kimball came in 2000 when she said he asked her to lie on the stand while he faced sexual-abuse charges involving other women.

Kimball said that she told him that she couldn't do that and broke off their friendship, which by then was nonsexual.

Kimball was later sentenced to seven years in prison for molesting another teenage girl in 1981 but was acquitted of raping yet another girl four years earlier. The conviction was later overturned because the statute of limitations had expired.

The former priest, who was born and raised in Santa Rosa and still lives and works in the area, has denied all charges.

But the church acknowledges that Saum was molested by Kimball.

"This was arguably the worst of all the cases we faced because of the nature and the length of the abuse and consequently the damage that resulted," said Deirdre Frontczak, a spokeswoman for the diocese.

She said attorneys for other plaintiffs -- nine civil suits remain concerning Kimball and other priests -- said the Saum case had to be settled first before talks could proceed on the other cases.

Frontczak said the money for the settlement will come from diocesan reserves and its insurers, and not from funding for ministry work or capital improvements.

Jeff Anderson, one of the attorneys representing Saum, said the settlement amounts to an "admission of culpability" by the diocese.

But Frontczak said "we're not admitting culpability." She added: "Culpability would imply that somebody knew [about the abuse]. We had no indication that anyone knew."

In a prepared statement Friday, Bishop Daniel Walsh, who heads the diocese, said: "With this settlement, we reaffirm our commitment to provide just and reasonable compensation to the victims of past abuse, to do all we can to forward the process of healing and reconciliation, and to ensure that such tragic acts are never repeated again."


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