2 active East Bay priests accused in recent child sex abuse suits

KNTV - NBC Bay Area [San Jose CA]

June 30, 2023

By Candice Nguyen, Michael Bott and Michael Horn

As the Diocese of Oakland attempts to seal the names of accused clergy during its ongoing bankruptcy case, NBC Bay Area has learned two working East Bay priests are among those alleged to have abused children in a recent wave of civil lawsuits.

At least two priests actively serving Catholic parishes in the East Bay are among hundreds of Bay Area clergy being accused of abusing children in a flood of recent lawsuits.

On a legal call with its bankruptcy creditors last week, the Diocese revealed two of its accused priests are still in ministry, according to a plaintiff’s attorney and a former Oakland priest who were on the call.

One of the active priests now facing abuse allegations is Fr. George Mockel, the current pastor of Santa Maria parish in Orinda, which NBC Bay Area has confirmed through a review of state court records.

In a civil lawsuit filed last year that remains pending, Mockel was accused of sexual abuse during the mid-1970’s. According to the plaintiff’s attorney, his client was a teenager and an altar server at the time.

Tim Stier, the former Oakland priest who was on the bankruptcy call last week, said that “having worked with Fr. Mockel for many years as a priest of the Diocese, and having had no negative opinion of him, I’m very disappointed to hear that he’s accused.”

But he believes accused priests still in ministry, including Mockel, should be sidelined while their lawsuits play out in court.

In an emailed statement, Fr. Mockel strongly denied the allegations.

“I categorically deny any allegations of abuse,” Mockel wrote in the statement. “I have never abused anyone in any way at any time. I have never been involved in any disciplinary action, criminal case, or civil matter and have never been accused of assault or any such wrongdoing in my lifetime.  I am deeply saddened and distressed by this maligning of my name and reputation.”

Oakland Bishop Michael Barber said in a statement he directed a former federal prosecutor to conduct an internal investigation, which found the allegations against Mockel “were not credible.”

“Given this, Father Mockel continues to have my support,” Barber said.

The civil case accusing Mockel is one of more than 350 lawsuits that drove the Oakland diocese into bankruptcy in May. The legal filings are the result of California’s 2019 Child Victims Act, which temporarily tossed out the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims in civil court for a three-year period between 2020 and 2022.

The revelation about the Diocese’s two active priests comes amid efforts by its attorneys to seal the names of accused clergy during the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. The attorneys argue the priests are entitled to confidentiality during that legal process to protect them from scandal and harassment.

NBC Bay Area’s investigation into the new accusations has already unearthed the names of hundreds of accused Bay Area priests during a multi-year review of state court filings. Many face sexual abuse claims for the very first time.

Plaintiff’s attorneys argued in bankruptcy court the identities of accused priests that have already been revealed in previous state court legal filings should remain in the public realm, which helps potential victims come forward.

“There are so many people that haven’t even come to terms with their abuse,” said attorney Sandra Ribera Speed. “Practice what you preach. Do the right thing. Do the right thing for these victims.”

Ribera Speed represents a plaintiff suing the church under the pseudonym John Doe, who filed a 2021 lawsuit accusing now-deceased Monsignor John McCracken of abusing him as a child.

“He would have me come into his office and tell me that I’ve been a very good boy,” Doe said. “And then that turned into taking my clothes off. And then that turned into him having his way with me in every way he wanted to.” 

His lawsuit remains pending.

He was the first person to file a lawsuit publicly accusing McCracken, one of the East Bay’s longest-serving priests before his death in 2012. Since NBC Bay Area first reported on the allegations, court records show three more plaintiffs have come forward with lawsuits accusing the priest of abuse. Their cases remain pending as well.

“I’m very moved and encouraged by [the new lawsuits] because I really felt like I was alone on an island,” Doe said.

Attorneys for the Diocese are expected to file a motion next month in the bankruptcy case specifying which names of accused clergy they want sealed and why they believe those priests are entitled to confidentiality.