Catholic Church Settles Sex Case in Santa Rosa

By Pamela J. Podger
San Francisco Chronicle
April 28, 2000

The Roman Catholic Church reached a final $1.6 million settlement this week in a molestation case involving Donald Kimball, an inactive priest and former youth minister.

Santa Rosa lawyer MaryClare Lawrence said, "We're happy with the results (of the 3-year-old civil lawsuit)." She said the church agreed to start making payments by June 1 for plaintiffs Chris Ovard, 35, Ellen Brem, 31, Neil Brem, 35, and Lorraine Brunz, 40, who alleged that they had been molested by Kimball in the 1970s and '80s.

Kimball vehemently denies any misconduct and is fighting the criminal charges filed last month alleging rape and lewd acts against minors in the 1970s and '80s. If convicted, Kimball could serve as long as 15 years in prison.

The civil lawsuit led to the criminal charges against Kimball, whose next court appearance is on May 10. The civil and criminal cases have one female plaintiff in common.

"In my opinion, everyone who is a party to this agreement knows that Don Kimball is a child molester," Lawrence said. "So, Kimball's protestations of innocence are not believed by anyone on my side or by anyone in the church hierarchy."

The settlement in the civil case came without Kimball participating in the negotiations.

"I'm really convinced this settlement wasn't done based on merit," said Kimball's criminal lawyer, Chris Andrian. "I've never seen a case when the actual alleged perpetrator was not included in the discussions."

Andrian said former Bishop John Steinbock, who came to the diocese in 1987, could be called to testify about how he was first alerted in 1990 to Kimball's predatory actions against minors.

Maurice Healy, spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said Archbishop William Levada wants to resolve any problems hanging over the Santa Rosa diocese before Bishop Daniel Walsh takes over on May 22.

Last week, the Roman Catholic Church agreed to pay $535,000 to the Rev. Jorge Hume Salas, who accused former Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann of years of sexual coercion, thereby settling a civil lawsuit filed last July in Sonoma County Superior Court. Ziemann resigned days after the suit was filed.

The beleaguered diocese is mired in at least $15 million in debt and faces a major financial crisis caused by overspending, risky financial schemes and the payment of millions of dollars to victims of sexual abuse by priests.

In the civil settlement involving Kimball, the church agreed to establish a $500,000 therapy fund for other victims of priestly abuse in the sprawling Santa Rosa diocese, which extends from Petaluma to the Oregon border. About $207,000 of that money will be reserved for the four plaintiffs' therapy and will be paid in annual installments until 2006.

In addition, Monsignor John Brenkle, who is handling financial matters for the diocese on an interim basis, will issue letters of written apology to each of the plaintiffs. "The impulse is to deal forthrightly with the victims and . . . is driven by the ethics of the church," Healy said.

The diocese also agreed to implement a sexual misconduct committee -- modeled after one in the Oakland diocese -- and to continue its training program on sexual misconduct for clergy and lay staff.

Healy said the settlement will be paid by diocesan funds and the Ordinary Mutual Insurance Co., a self-insurance fund contributed to by California and other U.S. dioceses.


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