Court Says Suits against Priest Can Go Forward

Orange County Register
June 3, 1997

Three men who allege they were sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s and 1980s can sue the priest but not his religious order, the 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The men, Michael Tietge, Timothy Ender and Michael Moyneur, say that while they were teen-agers they were molested by Brother Gregory Atherton at St. Philip BeniziChurch in Fullerton, where Atherton was music director, at Servite High School in Anaheim, and on trips to other cities.

In 1993, they each filed a civil suit naming Atherton and his Portland, Ore.-based order, the Servite Center of the Servite Order, as defendants. The trial court rejected the suits because the statute of limitations had expired.

One year later the California Legislature extended the statute of limitations, retroactively. The three men appealed and, last week, the appellate court unanimously reinstated their claims against Atherton.

However, by a 2-1 vote, the panel ruled that the provisions adopted by the Legislature in 1994 do not extend to employers and that the men cannot sue the Servite Center. Judge Sheila Press Sonenshine disagreed with Presiding Judge David G. Sills and Judge William F. Rylaarsdam, arguing that the 1994 law extends to employers, as well.

CORRECTION-DATE: June 11, 1997

CORRECTION: Gregory Atherton was a religious brother, but not a Catholic priest, when he allegedly sexually abused three Orange County men. Because of incorrect information included in a court document, Atherton was described as a priest in a headline and story that appeared in the Metro section of the June 3 issue of the Register.


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