Woman Sues Diocese for Ending Counseling

By Mark Sauer
Union-Tribune [San Diego CA]
June 16, 2006

A woman undergoing therapy for panic attacks and nightmares resulting from rapes and beatings she says she suffered as a girl at a Catholic orphanage has filed suit against the Diocese of San Diego for terminating payments for counseling.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by a woman identified as Diana B. She says her therapist got a letter in November from a diocese official stating her treatment would be terminated after 52 one-hour sessions.

The letter, from Msgr. Steven Callahan, stated it was "the policy of the San Diego Diocese to provide up to 52 (sessions) for individuals seeking our pastoral outreach in cases of sexual abuse," according to the lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court.

But Irwin Zalkin, a San Diego attorney suing the diocese on behalf of Diana B. and others who say they were sexually abused by religious members, said he was unaware of such a policy.

Zalkin cited a January 2004 public statement issued by Robert Brom, the Catholic bishop of San Diego, that the diocese continues to "take very seriously its commitment to reach out with pastoral concern and care to victims of sexual abuse and their families, and to promote healing and reconciliation with them."

Zalkin also noted a similar statement made in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is also a target of the lawsuit.

Rodrigo Valdivia, chancellor for the San Diego diocese, said in an e-mail Wednesday that "the diocese addresses the payment of counseling for victims on a case by case basis."

Valdivia declined to answer other questions about counseling for victims of sexual abuse, including how many have had therapy paid for by the diocese, and the total paid to therapists since the abuse scandal broke in dioceses across the country four years ago.

Zalkin, one of several attorneys who together have filed about 150 sex-abuse lawsuits against the San Diego diocese, said he had made phone calls and sent letters in an effort to get Diana B.'s counseling payments reinstated in an effort to avoid filing suit.

"We got absolutely no response," said Zalkin, noting his client cannot afford to pay for counseling.

"I thought we had settled this in 2004, but I guess not."

Zalkin was referring to a similar lawsuit he filed on behalf of another client whose therapy payments were also terminated. That resulted in the diocese agreeing to resume payment for therapy, he said, which is what he is seeking in this suit.

Diana B. says that over a four-year period, beginning in 1969, she was repeatedly raped, beaten and "psychologically tortured" at an orphanage run by the Catholic diocese, and later by a priest who served as a counselor at University High School.

Her abusers, according to her main lawsuit, were the Rev. Robert Buchanan, who is no longer in the ministry; Monsignor I. Brent Eagen, who died in 1997; Richard Gordon, an orphanage caretaker whose whereabouts are unknown; and Sister Bridgette, a nun who is also deceased.

On a second front in the ongoing Catholic sex-abuse scandal, a victims group demonstrated outside the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Los Angeles this week, charging that more than a dozen bishops accused of molestation have not been held accountable.

SNAP Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests was unsuccessful in an attempt to meet with Archbishop Pietro Sambi the U.S. representative for Pope Benedict XVI who is attending the conference. But they passed on a letter to Sambi demanding that church officials deal with accusations against various U.S. bishops.

Mark Sauer: (619) 293-2227;


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