Molest Charges against S.F. Priest
Ex-Pastor of St. Cecilia's Posts Bail

By Don Lattin
San Francisco Chronicle
January 25, 1995

Monsignor Patrick O'Shea, a prominent San Francisco priest, was arrested in San Francisco Monday night on felony child molesting charges, court officials said.

O'Shea, who has been accused of molesting nine boys between 1964 and 1980 in church rectories and on weekend ski outings, was immediately released on $15,000 bail.

O'Shea was arrested on 16 felony counts of lewd acts with minors under age 14, according to the criminal court clerk's office.

Sources in the San Francisco district attorney's office said they worked out an arrangement for O'Shea to surrender voluntarily and to post bail.

O'Shea — whose criminal trial may be derailed by problems with the statute of limitations — could be arraigned today in San Francisco Municipal Court.

O'Shea, 63, is the former pastor of the St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in the Parkside district. He once headed the San Francisco archdiocese's outreach program to the gay community.

His story began unfolding last March, when the priest was suddenly placed on administrative leave from a church whose prominent members include Police Chief Anthony Ribera, coach of the parish basketball team.

That month, the accuser who first tipped investigators to the scandal told The Chronicle that O'Shea would organize drinking games with adolescent boys in a double-wide trailer at Lake Berryessa in the 1970s.

"There were 13-year-old boys drinking hard liquor and throwing up all over themselves," the victim, now 36, recalled. "Every time I was up there, someone was sleeping in the double-bed with Monsignor O'Shea — even though there were empty beds in the trailer."

Investigators have spent nearly a year searching for evidence of more recent sex abuse allegations against O'Shea.

That is because under the old California statute of limitations on child molestation, O'Shea could be charged only with acts that occurred in the past six years.

"Maybe he just got older and into declining health, and his lifestyle changed," said one law enforcement source involved in the O'Shea case.

Under a new sex-crimes law that took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, it is possible to avoid the statute of limitations in certain child molestation cases.

A person of any age may come to police and lodge a complaint of sexual abuse that occurred when the complainant was under 18. From that point, assuming that other evidence is found, the police have one year to file charges. In O'Shea's case, that time expires next month.

What is unclear in O'Shea's case, however, is whether the new law can be applied retroactively, to sex crimes that took place more than six years before the 1994 law took effect.

In three separate cases around the state, Superior Court judges have said the new law cannot be applied retroactively, but the issue is now awaiting a ruling by the California Supreme Court.

Prosecutors and O'Shea's attorney, James Collins, have worked out a deal whereby O'Shea will waive his right for a speedy hearing, and both sides will wait for the state Supreme Court to decide the statute-of-limitations issue.

Bill Mitchell, a spokesman for the San Francisco Archdiocese, said O'Shea is now considered an "inactive" priest. Under Roman Catholic law, church authorities cannot actually take away his priestly powers.

"He has no assignment," Mitchell said. "He's as cut off as he can be."

Meanwhile, court action is pending on a civil lawsuit filed last May against O'Shea and two other "inactive" priests — the Rev. Austin Peter Keegan of the San Francisco and Santa Rosa dioceses and Gary Timmons of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

That suit, filed by nine plaintiffs, alleges that San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn, Santa Rosa Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann and former Santa Rosa Bishop Mark Hurley took inadequate steps to prevent priestly abuse or tried to cover up past cases.

Quinn and other archdiocesan officials have denied that they knew of allegations against O'Shea before police contacted them last February.

Tomorrow, a San Francisco Superior Court judge will hear arguments as to whether the statute of limitations allows a civil suit against O'Shea, Timmons and Keegan.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.