Couple's Trek Aims to Aid Clergy Sex Abuse Victims
57-Mile S.F.-to-S.J. Walk Intended As Reminder of Church's Responsibility

By Brandon Bailey
Mercury News
Downloaded April 3, 2004

Their backpacks filled with printed fliers, bottled water and extra socks, a San Jose husband and wife launched a three-day, 57-mile campaign Friday to remind Roman Catholics that victims of clergy sexual abuse aren't ready for the issue to go away.

John Salberg, 39, helped bring a national scandal home to the Diocese of San Jose two years ago when he became the first of more than 20 men to disclose they had been abused by a respected priest in the 1970s.

This weekend, Salberg and Lori Uchiyama say they will walk from San Francisco to San Jose. They are urging other victims to come forward and accusing church officials of withholding information about the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard's career.

The couple plans to stop at several churches and schools where Pritchard served before arriving at noon Sunday outside St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose, where Salberg and many of his former classmates say they were abused.

He and Uchiyama said they want other victims to feel comfortable seeking help and church officials to accept responsibility for past abuse.

"I know a lot of Catholics are tired of hearing about it," Salberg said after several worshipers declined to accept fliers that he and his wife were distributing outside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco.

"But we're practicing Catholics. We don't want to tear apart the church," he said. "I want to be able to walk into church, take my hat off and be proud."

Salberg is one of at least 21 former students at the St. Martin of Tours parish school who are suing the Diocese of San Jose and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which had jurisdiction over South Bay churches until 1981.

Some midday worshipers at St. Mary seemed surprised when Salberg and his wife greeted them politely outside the cathedral and then handed them a flier that bore the headline: "Were you abused?"

And some were openly skeptical of the motives behind the lawsuits that Salberg and hundreds of other clergy abuse victims have brought in California.

"I think some of it happened, but I think some of them are lying," said Mary Swanson, a retired secretary.

"I don't want the money of the archdiocese to have to go to legal fees," interjected her friend, who did not want to give her name. "I understand there was abuse, but they should not have waited so long to come forward."

Retired hotel manager George Smith asked Salberg about that.

"It's something you don't want to talk about when it happens," Salberg said quietly, adding that he and other boys were fondled by Pritchard when they were 10, 11 and 12 years old. "That's why people end up having depression and other problems later in life."

Smith seemed satisfied with that answer.

"It's hard to imagine what it's like unless it happened to you," he said later. "If these two are making people more aware, by doing this, then more power to them."

Pritchard died in 1988, before anyone publicly accused him of misconduct. One of his nephews has since filed a lawsuit alleging that Pritchard molested him in 1959 and that at the time, his mother complained to officials at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, where the priest was teaching. The father of a St. Martin student also has said he told the San Francisco archdiocese that Pritchard molested his son in 1977.

Church officials said they have no record of either complaint. A spokesman for the San Francisco archdiocese said he couldn't comment on Salberg's charge that church officials have refused to let his lawyers examine Pritchard's medical records for indications that he had been treated for pedophilia or similar problems.

But spokesman Maurice Healy added: "We're committed to dealing with victims fairly."

San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath has promised to give victims "continuing support" and has paid for counseling for any who asked, said his spokeswoman, Roberta Ward.

"If people have not come forward, they should," she said. "The church stands ready to help them."

The San Francisco and San Jose dioceses have sought feedback from sex-abuse victims through advisory committees, the officials said.

Salberg and Uchiyama, however, complained that Bay Area and national church officials have not done enough to take victims' concerns into account. While Bay Area bishops have touted the results of a national audit that found they were complying with new policies on sexual abuse, Salberg said that the auditors did not interview any victims who had filed lawsuits.

"Are we really searching for the truth," Salberg said, "or are we just trying to move forward, to forget what happened?"

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