Women Abused by Priest Awarded $ 2.9 Million

By Ann Bancroft
San Francisco Chronicle
February 29, 1992

A jury found yesterday that three Glenn County women who were sexual misconduct victims of a priest suffered $ 2.9 million worth of damages, but the jurors decided that the Diocese of Sacramento was not responsible for the actions of the priest during his counseling sessions.

The ruling was a victory for the Roman Catholic Church, because the priest -- and not his employers -- was found liable, thus making it unlikely that the women will actually receive payment for the damages.

The women who brought the suit against the Rev. Michael Dermody and the diocese had asked for upward of $ 7.5 million in punitive damages in the dramatic four- week trial in Sacramento Superior Court.

"That's justice?" one of the plaintiffs, Kathy Sprain Cannel, asked, weeping, after the verdict was read.

Dermody, who is undergoing counseling in a church-affiliated hospital in Maryland, had admitted to church officials that he had sexual affairs with the plaintiffs between 1983 and 1989.

Dermody was pastor of St. Dominic's Catholic Church in the rural community of Orland when one of his parishioners confessed to her husband in 1989 that Dermody had seduced and sexually abused her for several years.

The woman's husband, counselor Declan Hogan, began talking to other parishioners about the shattering news and found three other women with similar stories to tell.

According to plaintiff's attorney David Nisley of Omaha, Neb., Dermody approached all four women with the line: "You have sadness in your eyes. Come talk to me."

When the women began spiritual counseling, Dermody's gentle hugs progressed to questionable squeezes and brushes with his hands, then to unmistakably sexual moves and finally, with two of the plaintiffs, both forcible and consensual sex, according to the plaintiffs.

Hogan said he telephoned Bishop Francis Quinn, whose diocese has authority over 20 Northern California counties and about 240 priests. He said he asked Quinn to remove Dermody from his post and to admit publicly to the parish that the sexual misconduct had occurred.

Dermody acknowledged his sexual misconduct to church officials and was sent to a retreat in Sacramento. He later left for Ireland. Quinn did not speak to the parish, as Hogan had requested.

Hogan said his wife and the three other female parishioners decided to file the lawsuit after the Glenn County District Attorney found no criminal wrongdoing and the church refused to take further action. One of the women settled her lawsuit with the church before trial, but Kristine Hogan, Molly Emanuel and Kathy Cannell remained plaintiffs.

Quinn's attorney, Geoffrey Beaty of San Francisco, said the bishop and diocese are "gratified to have been vindicated."

"It was a painful experience for all involved, most particularly for the plaintiffs," he said.


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