Judge Refuses to Dismiss One of 11 Lawsuits; Church Lawyers to Argue Ruling Today

The Press Democrat [California]
January 5, 2005

An Oakland judge has rejected the Catholic Church's first legal attempt to eliminate one of 11 child sex-abuse lawsuits against the Santa Rosa Diocese.

In refusing the diocese's bid to dismiss a suit against a priest who died 14 years ago, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw tentatively ruled that another priest may have known of the misconduct and the case consequently can go to trial.

Lawyers for the diocese and the alleged victim, a former Calistoga altar boy, will argue the ruling today in Sabraw's courtroom and a final order will be issued.

The plaintiff, a 48-year-old Amador County man, married and a father of six children, alleges he was repeatedly molested by the Rev. Patrick Gleeson from 1968 to 1972, when Gleeson was pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Calistoga.

Gleeson died in 1991 at 66, after serving the previous six years at St. Joseph's Church in Cotati and earlier at St. Apollinaris in Napa.

The key to the plaintiff's case is his sworn declaration that another priest, the Rev. Michael Culligan, visited the Calistoga rectory on two occasions and allegedly saw Gleeson and the victim go into Gleeson's bedroom and spend the night there.

In a move to get the case thrown out of court, Santa Rosa Diocese attorney Adrienne Moran argued that the plaintiff's statement was "purely speculative" and therefore inadmissable.

Moran also asserted that the plaintiff's claim regarding Culligan was "conspicuously absent" from his previous statements under oath, including a sworn deposition in October 2003.

But in his tentative ruling, Sabraw rejected all of Moran's objections to the plaintiff's evidence. "There is evidence that Father Culligan knew that Gleeson was taking the plaintiffs to his room in the rectory," the judge said.

Culligan, who now serves as pastor at St. James Church in Petaluma, was not available for comment Tuesday. Moran said she had spoken to Culligan and criticized the plaintiff's account as "completely false and defamatory of Father Culligan."

Culligan never served in Garberville, she said, contradicting the plaintiff's reference to him as a visiting priest from Garberville.

In his declaration, dated Dec. 9, 2004, the plaintiff said he recognized Culligan from a photograph he was shown in October.

Moran said that Culligan had visited the Calistoga rectory, but "never saw kids sleeping overnight" and "never saw anyone going up to the bedroom."

To prove his case and collect damages from the diocese, the plaintiff must prove that church officials were aware of Gleeson's misconduct.

Plaintiff's attorney Larry Drivon acknowledged that the December declaration included new information. "We knew we needed to get more specific," he said.

The plaintiff cited a reply by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to the question, in a November 2004 deposition, of whether a child's spending the night in a priest's bedroom would have raised suspicions of sexual misconduct.

"I think it would have been suspicious on all grounds," Mahony replied.

The diocese countered with a declaration by the Rev. Daniel Whelton, judicial vicar of the diocese, that his review of church records found no report of sexual misconduct by Gleeson prior to 2002.

Moran said she hopes to change Sabraw's mind at today's hearing. The case against Gleeson, one of 11 pending lawsuits against the diocese, is "the thinnest of the thin," she said.

The 150,000-member Santa Rosa Diocese, which covers 43 parishes from Petaluma to the Oregon border, has been roiled for a decade by revelations of sexual misconduct by priests going back 40 years.

Diocese officials have said there are credible allegations of misconduct against 16 priests. Of the 11 lawsuits, two name Gleeson, five name Don Kimball and four involve Gary Timmons. Kimball and Timmons have been defrocked.


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