New lawsuit accuses a former Mater Dei coach of raping a student in the 1980s

Los Angeles Times

January 20, 2022

By Laura J. Nelson, Connor Sheets, Hannah Fry

A Southern California woman alleged Thursday that a Mater Dei High School track and football coach repeatedly sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, while she was a student at the prestigious Catholic school.

In a lawsuit filedin Orange County Superior Court against Mater Dei and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, the woman said coach Patrick Callahan assaulted her “countless times” while she was a student assistant for the football team.

Some of the worst abuse came during the summer of 1987, before her senior year, the lawsuit said.

During “Hell Week,” a period of intense workouts leading up to the start of the football season, the team and its student assistants spent the night in the gymnasium to accommodate a grueling schedule of two-a-day practices, the complaint said.

While the students were supposed to be asleep, Callahan took the teenager to the football field, where they were alone, and raped her, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit appears to be the first public accusation of sexual abuse against Callahan, who worked as a football coach, track coach and physical education teacher at Mater Dei in the late 1980s, according to school yearbooks. Callahan could not be reached for comment.

The woman filed the lawsuit anonymously. The Times generally does not identify people who have reported being victims of sexual assault.

Institutions across California have faced a wave of abuse accusations after lawmakers granted more time to childhood survivors to pursue criminal action and civil penalties. The law, which passed in 2019, created a three-year window for victims to file lawsuits that otherwise might have expired due to the statute of limitations. The filing window closes in December.

Spokesman Bradley Zint said in an email that the Diocese of Orange had not been formally served with the complaint, and generally does not comment on pending litigation.

The student, who was raised in a devout Catholic family, met Callahan at a track camp sponsored by Mater Dei in 1984, during the summer before her freshman year, the lawsuit said. The complaint accused Callahan of “grooming” her, earning her trust as a spiritual advisor and mentor, then sexually assaulting her.

“This is not just a breach of trust of a coach and an adult,” said her attorney, Mike Reck. “This experience took away parts of her formative years. That portion of her life will never exist again.”

In addition to the rape on the football field, Callahan took the student to group dinners off campus, gave her alcohol and assaulted her in the presence of other Mater Dei coaches, the lawsuit said.

The nature of those alleged assaults was not detailed in the lawsuit. It is not clear whether coaches were aware of the alleged abuse or tried to stop it.

The abuse set the student “on a bad path in her 20s,” Reck said. “She has worked really hard to live a good life after this.”

As an adult, she reported the assaults to Mater Dei and to the diocese, the lawsuit said. Reck said she met with the diocese’s chancellor, the organization’s most senior lay administrator, to discuss what happened when she was at Mater Dei. Officials there should be “fully aware of this case,” he said.

She did not contact law enforcement, Reck said.

“When she did have the strength to report the abuse, she reported it to the institution,” Reck said. “That’s what good Catholics do. You go to the institution. These are supposed to be people they can trust.”

Mater Dei’s principal at the time was Msgr. Michael Harris, who was later accused of molesting male students. Harris left the priesthood in 2001 after the Los Angeles and Orange County dioceses paid $5.2 million to one of his accusers.

Reck said his client’s assaults occurred during a “very dark time for Mater Dei,” adding that “This doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

The lawsuit filed Thursday identifies the diocese and the school as “Doe 1″ and “Doe 2.” Cases filed under the three-year window for childhood sexual abuse do not list the defendants until the names are approved by a judge, Reck said.

Callahan left Mater Dei to coach at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, another diocesan school, the lawsuit said. He later worked for 16 seasons as a football coach at Cerritos College.

In 2006, he pleaded guilty to a felony count of falsifying government documents to secure more than $150,000 in financial aid for athletes at the junior college. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, in media reports at the time, said he admitted to fraudulently securing aid for 13 football players starting in 1999.

Callahan told a judge that he helped students submit fraudulent financial aid paperwork and modified enrollment paperwork to help out-of-state players receive in-state tuition, according to media reports.

The claims in the lawsuit echo other allegations made about Mater Dei teachers, administrators and staff in previous litigation.

In 2005, the Diocese of Orange agreed to pay $100 million to settle claims filed by 90 people who said they were abused by priests and other diocesan employees, including at Mater Dei.

In 2007, the diocese settled four more molestation lawsuits for nearly $7 million. One former Mater Dei student accused assistant basketball coach Jeff Andrade of sexually abusing her for more than a year, starting when she was 15. Andrade admitted in a deposition to having sex with the student. He was fired, but was later allowed to return to campus several times as an employee for a company that raised money for school athletic programs.

Reck is one of the attorneys representing a family that sued the diocese and Mater Dei in November, alleging that a brutal hazing incident in the varsity football locker room left their son with a broken nose and a traumatic brain injury. The school has said the lawsuit is meritless.

The November lawsuit launched a wave of media scrutiny of the elite school.

In early January, president Walter E. Jenkins abruptly left Mater Dei. Jenkins, a priest, returned to South Bend, Ind., to “take on a new assignment” with his religious order, the diocese said.

Just before his departure, Jenkins hired a law firm to investigate safety protocols at Mater Dei and in its athletics programs.

His successor, Michael Brennan, was announced six days later. Brennan spent nearly 15 years as principal of Servite High School in Anaheim and was the president of the Trinity League, the high school athletic conference that includes Mater Dei, for roughly a decade.

Brennan will oversee the safety review, which is scheduled to begin this semester, the diocese said.