Monsignor Charged with Molesting Altar Boys

By Dennis J. Opatrny, Elizabeth Fernandez and Stephanie Salter
San Francisco Chronicle
January 24, 1995

Monsignor Patrick O'Shea, whom police accuse of parlaying his Roman Catholic priestly trust into pedophilic trysts with altar boys, has been charged with 16 counts of sexually molesting minors.

O'Shea, 62, surrendered Monday night on a warrant for his arrest at the Hall of Justice, said San Francisco Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Rich Dyer.

He was booked, fingerprinted and photographed on the sex charges involving nine men, all of whom were under age at the time of the alleged incidents but are now adults. He was freed on $15,000 bail.

The district attorney alleged in the complaint that O'Shea had committed the illegal sex acts between January 1964 and August 1980.

Prosecutors say O'Shea, the former pastor at St. Cecilia's parish on 17th Avenue, where Police Chief Tony Ribera worships, molested the youngsters in San Francisco, Napa, Placer and Riverside counties.

O'Shea is tentatively scheduled to be arraigned on the charges Wednesday. His attorney, Jim Collins, said O'Shea would plead not guilty.

Future of case uncertain

Whether O'Shea, who has been prohibited by the Catholic Church from the public practice of the priesthood, will ever stand trial on the charges remains uncertain.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Robert Podesta said the complaint against O'Shea had been filed to prevent the statute of limitations from expiring.

If a new law covering child molestations is found to apply retroactively to O'Shea's case, the deadline for filing charges would be Feb. 2.

Podesta said the prosecution's case against O'Shea would be safeguarded now that charges had been formally filed, while higher courts decided issues such as the retroactivity of the new law.

At the time the cases involving O'Shea allegedly occurred, the statute of limitations for filing sexual molestation charges was six years from the alleged incident.

Under a law passed last year, a victim who was under 18 at the time of the offense can press charges up to one year after she or he recalls the incident and notifies police.

The issue of whether the statute retroactively applies to O'Shea's alleged victims, who came forward within the last year, will be decided by state Court of Appeal or ultimately the state Supreme Court, Podesta said.

If the higher courts rule in the district attorney's favor, the prosecution will proceed, he said. An unfavorable decision could lead to dismissal of all charges.

Defense confident of dismissal

Collins said he doubted his client would ever come to trial.

"It's hard to say what happened 15 or 30 years ago, and that's why we have statutes of limitations," Collins said. "We believe the statute of limitations has run out and the monsignor cannot be prosecuted."

One of the alleged victims said he was relieved that authorities had pursued the case.

"I thought we were going to fight a losing battle . . . due to the statute of limitations' having passed," said the alleged victim, who told police that he had been repeatedly molested by O'Shea while he was an altar boy and a student at Mission Dolores elementary school.

"Truthfully, I did not expect anything would come of this case."

Police began to build their case against O'Shea last Feb. 9, when juvenile Inspectors Sgt. Perry Morris and Robert Donsbach began their investigation of the monsignor's alleged activities with young boys.

According to confidential police reports obtained by The Examiner, most of the 10 men who say O'Shea molested them were altar boys, some as young as 9 at the time of the alleged incidents.

At Berryessa and in Rome

O'Shea allegedly subjected children to fondling, oral and anal copulation in church rectories, on weekend retreats at Lake Berryessa and in one case on a trip to Rome, where the monsignor and one of the boys met the pope, investigators said.

The first report of a molestation, according to police, came from the therapist of a man experiencing emotional problems as the result of what he recalled happened to him years ago in the company of the monsignor.

The man wrote to other former altar boys, who talked with police juvenile investigators. The interviews set a pattern that showed most had allegedly been molested at the priest's trailer at Lake Berryessa, police say.

The boys would water-ski on the lake, police said, then return to the trailer to drink beer or Harvey Wallbangers, after which the priest would take the boy of his choice to his bedroom.

Other alleged victims said they had been molested in churches, one youth at the Most Holy Redeemer rectory after going to see the film "The Exorcist" with O'Shea. Other incidents allegedly occurred at a health club and the Elks Club.

Although the charges against O'Shea are the first criminal counts lodged against him, he has been named as a defendant in a civil suit filed last May in which a Pittsburg man accused the priest of fondling him during a camping trip to Napa County in 1969.

Police brass was interested

The investigation of O'Shea even reached into the higher echelons of the Police Department, according to the log kept by Donsbach and Morris.

In one entry, the investigators say superior officers told them to "take no action" concerning O'Shea, the chief's pastor, without first clearing it with Ribera or now-Deputy Chief Diarmuid Philpott.

Ribera also informed Archbishop John Quinn about the investigation of O'Shea, the log shows. It was archdiocesan officials - not police - who told O'Shea that he was a suspect.

Police notified the archdiocese of their suspicions regarding O'Shea on March 4, but it was not until March 27 that the archdiocese put him on administrative leave.

The archdiocese waited until August before revoking O'Shea's permission to "publicly exercise the ministry of the priesthood."


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