Clergy Abuse Case Considered

By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
June 11, 2009

The state Supreme Court took up an Oakland case Wednesday to decide whether six brothers who say they learned only recently that their psychological problems had been caused by a priest's sexual abuse during their childhood can sue the Catholic Church.

The seven justices all voted to grant a hearing on an appeal by Oakland's Catholic Diocese of a ruling reinstating a lawsuit by the men, who said a priest molested them in the early 1970s. A lawyer for the brothers said the case would decide whether many other Californians in similar circumstances can sue for damages.

Lead plaintiff Terry Quarry and his five brothers, ages 43 to 49, sued the diocese in 2007, saying they had discovered only recently that their psychological problems as adults were related to the molestation they allegedly suffered as children.

They identified their alleged abuser as the Rev. Donald Broderson, who was a priest in Concord in the 1970s but was transferred to several parishes before the diocese forced him into retirement in the early 1990s.

Broderson was never charged with a crime, but the diocese settled several lawsuits filed in 2003 that accused him of molestation. Published reports have quoted him as admitting in a court deposition that he sexually abused children in the 1970s. He specifically admitted molesting the Quarry brothers, said Irwin Zalkin, the brothers' lawyer.

State law usually requires those claiming injuries to sue within a few years of the incident, when memories are fresh and evidence remains available. Revelations of clergy abuse and church concealment prompted legislators to pass a law setting new deadlines for damage claims against institutional employers for molestations that allegedly occurred many years earlier.

An Alameda County judge dismissed the Quarry brothers' lawsuit in November 2007, saying - like other judges in previous cases - that the law required all such suits to be filed by the end of 2003. But a state appeals court revived the case in February, saying the law gives adults more time to sue after learning that their psychological disorders were caused by childhood sexual abuse.

The court said those adults have three years to sue the church if they can show it had reason to know of the danger and did nothing.

In their suit, the Quarry brothers said they had known what the priest did to them, but developed coping mechanisms that prevented them from fully understanding the abuse and its consequences until 2006.

Zalkin said it's common for a victim of childhood abuse to learn much later in life of the link to problems such as alcoholism. Churches that "have known about these perpetrators for decades" shouldn't be immunized from such suits, he said.

The case is Quarry vs. Doe, S171382. E-mail Bob Egelko at


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