Former Fresno Priest Target of Sex Abuse Lawsuit

By Corin Hoggard
ABC 30
August 17, 2011

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- New sexual abuse allegations have turned the Catholic diocese of Fresno into a target for protesters claiming crimes are covered up.

A lawsuit filed last week accuses a priest of sexually victimizing a boy in San Jose ten years ago. Father Don Flickinger started his career in Fresno and worked for many years at San Joaquin Memorial High School.

Flickinger also worked at St. John's in Downtown Fresno, and that's where protesters gathered Tuesday.

Abuse victims came to the church to shine a spotlight on what they call a "continuing cover-up" of sex abuse that reaches all the way to the top of the Catholic Church. But the church's deacon told Action News the church has mended its ways.

44 years ago, Julie Kliegel was a 7-year-old princess living on the grounds of the Catholic diocese of Fresno. But her kingdom crumbled in a single day. She says a priest and a seminarian beat and raped her, then left her lying there.

"The secretary at the bishop's office carried me home and just threw me in my mom's arms and said, 'There was trouble at the seminary,'" Kliegel said. "That was it."

Four decades later, Kliegel joined up with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- or SNAP -- after finally coming to grips with what happened.

Kliegel says she doesn't know where her attacker ended up, but SNAP came to her hometown Tuesday, demanding an end to secrecy surrounding abusers.

"Sexual abuse happens everywhere," said Joelle Casteix of SNAP. "We know it happens, but the cover-up we've seen here in Fresno and other places has to stop."

Demonstrators targeted St. John's Cathedral because it was once the church home of Father Don Flickinger. He left Fresno for San Francisco 40 years ago and nobody reported any problems with him until this year.

But now, in a lawsuit filed in San Francisco, a man says he was abused and more than a dozen others -- some of them former Memorial High School students -- have described troubling contact with the priest.

SNAP members call it another example of pushing a problem from parish to parish, while keeping sexual secrets. But church leaders say the sex abuse scandals have been dealt with, and the church has reformed its policies.

"They're very transparent, especially because even the pope himself, John Paul II, apologized to the whole world," said Salvador de la Torre, the deacon at St. John's.

None of the sex abuse victims who spoke to Action News had any contact with Father Flickinger. He retired five years ago and now lives in the Fresno diocese. The lawsuit is months away from any significant hearings.

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