Santa Rosa Diocese hit by flurry of clergy abuse lawsuits under new state law

Press Democrat

Dec. 30, 2019

By Mary Callahan

The Santa Rosa Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is facing a fresh onslaught of lawsuits for its alleged role in enabling and, in some cases, concealing child sex abuse as far back as the 1960s involving four former North Coast priests — three of them now deceased.

The five lawsuits announced Monday by two law firms specializing in childhood abuse are among the first of what are expected to be hundreds, if not thousands, of cases filed throughout California under a new state law allowing survivors of childhood sexual assault to recover damages long after incidents of alleged sexual misconduct occurred. Although many of the suits are likely to involve the Catholic Church, the law applies to any childhood survivor.

The priests involved in the newly filed cases are all well-known among the ranks of local clergy accused of using their position of trust and spiritual authority to exploit children.

They include the late Rev. Patrick M. Gleeson and defrocked priests Gary Timmons, Xavier Ochoa and Don Kimball. All have been the subjects of past legal settlements between civil plaintiffs and the diocese, as well as in most cases criminal investigations. Only Timmons, who served four years in state prison for molesting youngsters, is still living. Now 79, he resides in Sacramento and has to report in each year as a registered sex offender.

But Timmons is not a named defendant in the cases involving him, both filed Monday in Sonoma County Superior Court.

Instead, the lawsuits target the Santa Rosa Diocese and Camp St. Michael, where much of his alleged abuse occurred. Both institutions could be subject to substantial financial penalties under the new legislation, which takes effect Wednesday, if the plaintiffs show sufficient proof.

“These cases are not so much about Timmons, but about the system and the reckless choices that the Catholic bishops of Santa Rosa have made over the years to protect their reputation over the safety of children,” said Minnesota-based attorney Jeff Anderson, whose law firm is representing the plaintiffs in the two cases involving Timmons.

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