Mother Takes Stand in Trial

By Amy White
Modesto Bee [Stockton CA]
March 10, 2005

STOCKTON A mother testified Wednesday that she heard one of her daughters cry out in their Hughson house one day in July 2001, and discovered a visiting priest leaning over the young teenager.

"He threw his hands up in the air and said, 'I didn't do anything!'" the woman said in San Joaquin County Superior Court, where a jury is hearing the family's civil lawsuit against the priest and others associated with St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto and the Catholic Diocese of Stockton.

The girl, then 13 and now 17, testified Tuesday that the Rev. Francis Arakal "grabbed" one of her breasts during that visit in 2001. One of her sisters, now 13, testified Wednesday that she saw the touching, and said the contact occurred over her sister's clothing.

The younger girl said Arakal touched one of her upper thighs, also over clothing. The alleged contact with the girls came during a tickle fight.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims the diocese and St. Joseph's pastor, the Rev. Joseph Illo, failed to deal appropriately with the allegations.

The 13-year-old testified that Illo and Arakal yelled at her, accusing her of lying about the incidents.

In cross-examination, the girls testified to recalling few details surrounding the incidents with Arakal and Illo, frequently responding "I don't know" and "I don't remember."

Defense attorneys say diocese officials addressed the allegations as soon as they heard about them, nearly a year after the alleged incidents.

A Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department report from July 2002 describes allegations that Arakal had acted inappropriately and had touched the older girl in a sexual manner. Hughson police, sheriff's investigators and the district attorney's office determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

The tickling involved Arakal and the three girls in the Hughson family, the oldest girl testified. She said she found herself on the floor, where Arakal pinned an arm while he grabbed her left breast twice.

"I yelled, 'No,' he did it again. I yelled, 'Stop it!' That's when my mom came around the corner," she said, crying. She fled to her room, she said, where she later told her middle sister not to tell anyone.

The 17-year-old said her mother asked what had happened, and the girl said she responded: "Nothing." In her testimony, she said: "I felt ashamed and I didn't think anyone would believe me, because (priests) are supposed to be holy people."

The middle sister testified Wednesday that she agreed with her sister's request to keep the incidents secret.

The mother said she did not find out what allegedly had occurred until the spring of 2002, when her middle daughter told her.

The oldest daughter changed after the incident, becoming socially withdrawn, her mother said. "It was like (Arakal) put a wedge between me and my daughter." She said her middle daughter began to act angry.

The mother said she observed a series of "red flags" involving Arakal, including his frequent requests to be invited to the house, telephone calls and messages that he left while the girls were home alone, pulling up his shirt after a meal and asking the girls to touch his abdomen, asking the girls to tie a hair around a mole on his neck, and a "game" that he tried to play with her youngest daughter.

"He took off his (priest's) collar, pushed it in his (front) pocket, way down, and said, 'Where did my collar go? Put your hand in there, see what you can find,'" the mother testified.

She felt the game was inappropriate and told Arakal to stop, she said.

George MacKoul, the plaintiffs' attorney, suggested the behaviors indicate a predator "grooming" potential victims.

Defense attorneys assert that family members misconstrued Arakal's actions.

MacKoul's questioning of the mother was expected to continue today, and defense attorneys were expected to continue cross-examining the 13-year-old.


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