|Release of Files Called Landmark in Abuse Case
By Greg Moran
October 26, 2010
The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego’s release of previously confidential files on priests accused of sexual misconduct is a landmark development in the abuse scandal, lawyers and advocates for victims said Monday.
The 10,000 pages of documents made available over the weekend extend back more than a half century and constitute what one expert called the most significant cache of clergy abuse files that has been released since 2003.
And more could be on the way, say lawyers for the 144 people who sued the diocese over claims they were molested as children.
The diocese is claiming some 2,000 more pages of documents relating to the priests should remain private, but the final decision will be made by a retired San Diego Superior Court judge who has been charged with deciding what documents should be made public.
In 2007, the diocese agreed to a $198.1 million settlement of all the claims. A key portion of the settlement was release of the files of priests, after a judge had reviewed them.
In a two-sentence statement Monday, the diocese said it has complied with all aspects of the settlement. The money was paid out in 2008. The statement added, “It is the ongoing hope of the Diocese that all victims will continue on a path toward healing and reconciliation.”
A portion of the released documents offers a glimpse into the inner workings of the diocese over the decades as it dealt with some priests accused of abuse. They confirm what plaintiffs and their lawyers have long said — that in some instances the diocese quietly moved priests who had molested children from parish to parish and sometimes ushered them out of the country.
Such black-and-white documentation of the church’s conduct is important, victim advocates said Monday. Paul Livingston, with the San Diego chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it was “a huge step forward in terms of transparency.”
“The upshot is that people are going to be informed. And when they are informed, children are going to be protected,” Livingston said.
The released documents are more significant than batches made public as part of litigation in Orange County in 2005, Portland, Ore., in 2008, or Bridgeport, Conn., in 2009, said Terry McKiernan, founder of the website bishop-accountability.org, which has tracked the sex abuse scandal.
McKiernan said the depth and breadth of the San Diego documents is rivaled in importance only by a trove released in 2003 in New Hampshire.
Among other things, he said, he was struck that many priests who were accused of abuse were from foreign countries, perhaps more than any other diocese in the nation.
That raises the question of whether San Diego bishops actively recruited, or agreed to accept, problem priests being moved from other dioceses, he said.
McKiernan said the release of the San Diego records also might spur the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to make public similar documents. As part of its settlement with more than 500 people in 2007, the archdiocese agreed to release files about priests accused of abuse.
Raymond Boucher, a Los Angeles lawyer involved in the San Diego and Los Angeles litigation, said those documents are still tied up in review by a judge. Boucher said he expected some of the documents to be released by the end of the year.
Irwin Zalkin, a San Diego lawyer who represented many of the plaintiffs, said the San Diego diocese is arguing that certain legal privileges — such as those between a therapist and patient, or attorney and client — bar the release of the remaining 2,000 pages of records. He said because most of the 48 priests whose files have been released are deceased, the protection does not apply.
The lawyers suspect those documents contain the most embarrassing and damaging records of how the diocese handled problem priests.
“These documents that have been released are just the tip of the iceberg in San Diego,” Boucher said.
A lawyer for the diocese did not respond Monday to questions e-mailed to her about the documents that have not been released.
Staff writer Steve Schmidt contributed to this report.
Among the accused priests
Even before Sunday's release of personnel files on priests accused of sexual misconduct, the abuse allegations had been well documented in the news media and lawsuits. Below are five of the 48 priests that the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego said had credible allegations lodged against them.
Ordained in 1954, Galindo served at six churches in San Bernardino, San Diego and Imperial counties and eventually became a monsignor. In a 2002 letter, Bishop Robert Brom revealed that Galindo had admitted sexually abusing three men when they were minors. It was not the first time Galindo had been accused of sexual misconduct. Galindo in 1985 paid $75,000 to a then-19-year-old man who accused him of molesting him when he was an altar boy at St. Joseph Cathedral. Galindo denied that allegation.
After the lawsuit was filed, Galindo was sent in 1983 to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Calexico, where he stayed for three years until retiring because of declining health. In the just-released files is a December 2002 letter Brom sent Galindo that told him he could not wear clerical garb, celebrate Mass publicly or administer the sacraments. "I am grateful for your commitment to a life of prayer and penance as reparation for your past misconduct," Brom wrote.
Kraft was the founding pastor in 1956 of St. Therese of the Child Jesus parish in Del Cerro, where he served for 14 years. In 1970, he became pastor of Good Shepherd parish in Mira Mesa, and pastor of St. Charles Borromeo in 1977, and eventually monsignor. He retired in 1991 and died in 2001.
Civil complaints alleged a pattern of abuse dating to 1953 and extending over the next 26 years, including lawsuits filed by two plaintiffs who said they were teenagers at St. Therese when they were molested between 1955 and 1963 and a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed Kraft molested him in the early 1970s when he was between the ages of 6 and 9.
Nikliborc was pastor of St. Anne's parish in Barrio Logan for 37 years. He died March 19, 2006. He served time in federal prison in 1969 for failing to file income taxes and was accused of living a double life - neighbors in Palm Springs knew him by a different name and thought he was an electronics company executive. Bishop Charles Buddy in 1956 wrote a letter to Nikliborc about entering a "special retreat" in Jemez Springs, N.M., and told him he needed to take a "definite stand" and not to waste time trying to "dig up defenses for the past."
"You are either for Him or against Him," the bishop wrote. "My earnest prayer is that you will (make) every moment count for the definite rehabilitation indicated." In 1976, Bishop Leo T. Maher said in a letter to a church official that Nikliborc "has a dual personality" and said he did not think he should be allowed to function as a priest.
A Riverside man accused Nikliborc of molesting him when he lived at Boys Town in Banning, a residential care facility, during the 1960s, when Nikliborc served as the school's director.
O'Keeffe was a monsignor when the Diocese of San Bernardino forced him to retire from the priesthood in 1994 after settling a lawsuit with a woman who said O'Keeffe had an affair with her and molested her young daughter. He was the subject of several lawsuits, including one filed by a woman who claimed she was a lonely 17-year-old high school senior at St. Adelaide's in San Bernardino when O'Keeffe, the church pastor, began a sexual liaison with her in 1972.
According to court documents, more than a dozen girls and young women claimed they were abused or seduced by O'Keeffe at churches in San Diego and San Bernardino counties from 1958 to 1992. According to bishop-accountability.org, O'Keeffe escaped to Ireland in mid-2002, shortly before prosecutors were going to charge him.
The late priest was accused of molesting many youngsters, including four German sisters at a San Diego orphanage operated by Catholic Charities. Five women accused Robier of sexually abusing them from 1955 to 1957 at the Church of the Holy Spirit in San Diego when he was assistant pastor and they were members of the church choir. The victims were between the ages of 8 and 11 when the alleged incidents occurred. Robier died in 1994.
The documents released Sunday include a 1994 letter from a Catholic Charities social worker in San Bernardino County who said she met with a 38-year-old woman in need of hospitalization for severe depression and substance abuse who claimed to have been abused by Robier. "She states that her family was very close friends of (Father) Franz Robier while he was at St. Anthony's in Riverside, as well as after that. She states that she was molested by him from age 11 to 17. She says that news of his recent death brought memories and feelings to the surface."
Timeline of Catholic Church abuse scandal
January: The Boston Globe launches an investigative series into allegations of Catholic priests sexually abusing minors and archdiocese cover-ups in cases that go back decades.
June: U.S. Catholic bishops pledge openness and adopt a zero-tolerance policy. The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reveals allegations made against 23 priests - 18 in San Diego County and five in Imperial County - since Bishop Robert Brom's arrival in 1990.
August: Brom reveals that retired Monsignor Rudolph Galindo admitted sexually abusing three boys and urges victims to speak up. Two lawsuits are filed in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of two men who say they were sexually abused by priests when they were minors.
January: A special California law lifts the statute of limitations on civil cases for one year, allowing sexual abuse victims to sue, regardless of how long ago the incidents occurred. By the Dec. 31 deadline, the Diocese of San Diego had been named in 99 such lawsuits involving more than 140 victims.
September: The Archdiocese of Boston agrees to pay $85 million to more than 500 people.
February: In a letter to San Diego priests, Brom says that accusations by 128 people against 42 priests in the diocese since 1950 were "substantiated or are credible." The diocese found 18 priests were either falsely accused or the claims against them could not be substantiated. A church-appointed National Review Board rebukes U.S. bishops for "shameful" failure to stop widespread clerical sex abuse over the past half-century. The tally shows 10,667 abuse claims involving minors lodged against 4 percent of the clergy (about 3 percent in San Diego).
July: The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., becomes the first Catholic diocese to seek bankruptcy protection in the face of sexual abuse claims.
December: The Diocese of Orange in California agrees to pay $100 million to about 90 victims, with payouts ranging from $50,000 to nearly $4 million.
May: A Los Angeles judge coordinating nearly 600 sexual-abuse lawsuits filed in Los Angeles and San Diego says five cases in each city can go forward.
February: The Diocese of San Diego files for bankruptcy protection the day before the first trial is to begin. It is the fifth and largest diocese to seek Chapter 11 reorganization.
March: The Diocese of San Diego releases the names of 38 priests with "credible allegations" of sexually abusing minors, along with their church service records dating to 1928.
July: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles agrees to pay $660 million to 508 victims in what is the largest settlement of its kind in the Catholic Church.
September: The Diocese of San Diego reaches a $198.1 million agreement with 144 victims. The diocese also promises to release church documents about abusers' histories.
March: The Diocese of San Diego pays its share of the settlement; other religious orders were involved to a smaller extent. The average payout amounted to $1.3 million for each plaintiff.
February: Lawyers for the victims in San Diego begin to gain access to files about priests accused of molesting parishioners.
October: A retired San Diego Superior Court judge orders the Diocese of San Diego to make public 10,000 pages of previously confidential personnel files of 48 priests who were accused of sexual abuse or had credible allegations lodged against them.
Compiled from Union-Tribune files by librarian Merrie Monteagudo
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