Molestation Focus Shifting
Alleged Victims of Priest Sexual Abuse Say They'll Push for Justice in Civil Cases

By Michael Gougis
Los Angeles Daily News [California]
Downloaded July 1, 2003

As authorities freed more people facing decades-old charges of child molestation, victim claimants and their attorneys announced Monday that they would seek justice in civil court for those abused as children.

During a noontime news conference, alleged victims of abuse by priests expressed their outrage at the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last week that overturned California's 1994 law retroactively lifting the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases.

"I'm hopeful that somehow, some way, justice will be done," said Jackie Dennis, one of several men who claim to have been victims of former priest George Neville Rucker of St. Agatha Catholic Church in Los Angeles.

Rucker was arrested last year while on a cruise ship in Alaska and pleaded not guilty to 29 felony counts relating to alleged incidents that occurred between 1947 and 1979.

While prosecutors had used the law in high-profile investigations against priests accused of sex crimes decades ago, the ruling affected far more than clergy. Prosecutors are going through at least 200 cases in Los Angeles County -- and more than 800 statewide -- which could be invalidated by the ruling.

Former priest Carl Sutphin, 71, was ordered released Monday after Ventura County prosecutors sought dismissal of charges stemming from allegations that he abused six boys in local churches in the 1970s.

According to prosecutors, Sutphin was accused of molesting the children on several trips, including a fishing trip and on the way home from a local mission. He was also accused of abusing a child during the sacrament of confession, prosecutors said.

"Because of his position of authority, he was able to convince the children to go along with the sexual acts, and it took them years to be able to come forward," Ventura County Deputy District Attorney Doug Ridley said. "The victims are disgusted and bitter."

Sutphin, who had pleaded not guilty to the charges, was an associate pastor at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in 1995 and at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

In Los Angeles, a judge ordered former priest Carlos Rene Rodriguez, 46, who had been in custody for nine months, released on his own recognizance. Rodriguez is charged with eight felony counts stemming from alleged crimes that occurred between 1984 and 1986 when he was a priest assigned to St. Vincent's Church in Los Angeles.

And another Superior Court commissioner warned prosecutors that they had two days to evaluate the case against another former priest, John Anthony Salazar, before ruling on a defense motion to dismiss -- something the commissioner suggested he was likely to do.

With the state lifting for one year the statute of limitations on civil claims alleging sexual abuse by clergy, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been bracing for an onslaught of lawsuits this year anyway. The change in the criminal landscape hasn't altered the way the church is approaching civil litigation, spokesman Tod Tamberg said.

"We're still hoping that we can work toward a mediated settlement of claims against the church," he said.


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