Jury Awards Victim $437,000 from San Jose Priest's Sex Abuse

By Lisa Leff
Associated Press, carried in San Luis Obispo Tribune [San Francisco CA]
March 25, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - The Archdiocese of San Francisco was ordered by a jury to pay $437,000 to a California man who says he was repeatedly fondled by a San Jose priest during the 1970s in a ruling that could influence hundreds of potential settlements statewide.

The San Francisco County Superior Court jury deliberated on damages for less than five hours Thursday before putting a price on Dennis Kavanaugh's emotional suffering, troubled personal life and lost wages.

The same jurors decided last Friday that the archdiocese was liable for the 47-year-old Kavanaugh's problems because church officials knew or should have known the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard was abusing young boys.

Neither Kavanaugh nor his attorney would say whether they were pleased or disappointed with the size of the award.

"A positive statement was made for the survivors, including myself," Kavanaugh said outside of court. "I look forward to being helpful any way I can to the other survivors who are still to come."

Bishop John Wester said the church had no plans to appeal the verdict and is "committed to a just compensation to all victims of clergy sexual abuse."

Wester added that he admired Kavanaugh's courage for coming forward and "pray that this will bring closure to him and is part of his healing."

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, praised Kavanaugh for coming forward.

"No amount of money can magically restore a stolen childhood, a shattered self-esteem or a devastated faith life," Clohessy said in a statement. "Still, I'm confident that Dennis and his family will feel very proud of what they have achieved - finally holding church officials accountable in court for horrific cover-ups of horrific sex crimes."

During the weeklong trial, Kavanaugh's lawyer, Larry Drivon, linked the molestation by Pritchard to Kavanaugh's dropping out of college, divorcing his wife, serving prison time for assault and feeling guilty and ashamed.

"They took away his belief in God, they took away his faith, they removed a large portion of his soul," Drivon said in closing arguments, urging the panel to be generous in compensating his client.

Church attorneys did not question Kavanaugh's claim of abuse and acknowledged he suffered from it, but disputed whether the molestation is the sole source of his problems.

Kavanaugh had asked for unspecified damages, but a lawyer for the archdiocese said during his closing argument that $200,000 would be proper.

Kavanaugh's civil lawsuit was the first of more than 750 against Roman Catholic dioceses in California to go to trial since the state temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for filing sex-abuse claims in 2002. The new law gave victims, whose allegations had previously been considered too old, one year to file molestation claims.

More than 150 lawsuits have been filed in Northern California, including about 75 naming the San Francisco Archdiocese.

Damage awards in Kavanaugh's case, along with another case headed to trial against the Oakland diocese, could influence eventual settlements statewide.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese Maurice Healy said it was difficult to predict how this verdict would impact the other pending claims.

"We let the faithful know we are going to reach settlements and in total it can be a significant financial impact," Healy said.


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