Man Testifies That Abuse by Priest Ruined His Entire Life

By Stacy Finz
San Francisco Chronicle [San Francisco CA]
March 22, 2005

After years of sexual abuse at the hands of his priest, Dennis Kavanaugh spiraled from being his parents' golden child -- a top athlete, a promising intellectual and a devout Catholic -- to a convicted felon who had lost his belief in God, according to testimony Monday.

Now, he wants the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco to pay.

Last week, a jury found that the church knew or should have known that the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard was molesting boys in Kavanaugh's San Jose parish, St. Martin of Tours, in the early 1970s, and had done nothing to stop it.

This week, that same jury began the damages phase of the case, hearing testimony about Kavanaugh's problems with intimacy and a divorce three years ago that was so bitter that he stole a loaded gun, held it on his wife and threatened to kill her. He was later convicted and served a year in prison. Since that time he went from a $90,000-a- year Silicon Valley semiconductor salesman to a $16-an-hour gardener.

"This is the graduation photo of the weed and feed guy of San Jose," said Larry Drivon, the plaintiff's attorney, as he held up a blown up photograph of Kavanaugh wearing his cap and gown like a young man ready to take on the world.

Drivon has not named an amount for his client's pain and suffering over the last 34 years, but the jury's award will be instrumental in setting the bar in more than 150 clergy-abuse coverup lawsuits filed in Northern California. A total of 40 have been filed against the Diocese of Oakland, and about 75 name the San Francisco Archdiocese. Kavanaugh's suit is the first of these cases to go to trial in California under a 2002 state law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations protecting organizations that gave known child molesters access to more victims.

Jim Goodman, the attorney representing the Archdiocese, told jurors Monday that there was no doubt that Kavanaugh should be compensated for the crimes that he suffered, but that amount should be reasonable. The San Francisco Archdiocese, which at the time oversaw St. Martin of Tours, is not contesting that Pritchard molested a number of boys, including Kavanaugh, at the parish between 1971 and 1973.

But Goodman said he would ask the jury to carefully consider whether all the problems Kavanaugh has endured over the years were caused by Pritchard's abuse, or by other events in the 47-year-old's life. Goodman tried to show that Kavanaugh's 2002 gun incident was the act of a jealous husband who was angry that his ex-wife was having an affair with another man and that he was ordered to pay $2,500 in spousal and child support.

But Martha Kavanaugh, Dennis' mother, said looking back on it she could see a correlation between her son's loss of interest in sports, his boredom with school, his later desertion of the church and the lavish attention Pritchard paid to the boy. At the time, Kavanaugh's parents basked in the attention their son was receiving.

Martha Kavanaugh said her son had spent hours playing golf and cards with Pritchard. What they didn't know is that the priest had used those times to fondle and masturbate their 13-year-old.

The first time was in a golf cart on the links in Santa Clara in 1971, Dennis Kavanaugh testified. It was his first sexual experience, and he was terrified, he told the jury.

"I was scared and confused," he said.

He said that Pritchard had molested him as many as 29 times more. Sometimes it was in Pritchard's bedroom in the church's rectory, sometimes in his car and other times on the golf course. Kavanaugh finally put a stop to it, he said.

"I told him ... that I wasn't going to do that any more," Kavanaugh said. "He ... said, 'That's OK, because thanks to you I have a bunch of kids I can do this with.'

"I was relieved that it wasn't me anymore," Kavanaugh continued.

But that feeling was short-lived, he said.

Years later, Kavanaugh said, he learned that Pritchard had replaced him with his younger brother.

"I felt so guilty and so ashamed," he said.

Kavanaugh said for nearly 30 years he believed there was no God and raised two children without religion. It wasn't until 2002, while he sat in a San Quentin prison cell, that he found his faith again. As far as the abuse, he said, "It's something I think about every day."

The trial is scheduled to resume today.


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