Priest's 224 Sex Charges Tossed
Prosecutors Waited Too Long, Judge Says

By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
March 15, 2002

The scores of sex-molestation charges against Patrick O'Shea, a once- powerful figure in San Francisco's Roman Catholic Church, were dismissed yesterday by a judge who said prosecutors waited too long to file.

The ruling could lead to freedom for O'Shea, 69, who has been held in jail for nearly two years on $5 million bail. He had faced 224 felony charges of molesting nine youths in the 1960s and '70s.

Assistant District Attorney Linda Klee said she would ask Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office to appeal the dismissal. She noted that San Francisco Superior Court Judge David Garcia's ruling was based solely on the legal deadline for filing the charges — which her office disputed — and did not address questions of guilt or innocence.

One of O'Shea's alleged victims sat through the hearing and lamented its result.

"I feel sorry for all the parishioners who were lied to, and I feel sorry for all the other victims. They aren't going to get their day in court," said Wayne Presley, 43, a San Mateo County man who alleged that O'Shea molested him when he was an altar boy and student at Mission Dolores Elementary School.

"The church ignored this problem," he said. "It was hidden until it exploded, until they couldn't ignore it any longer."

Revelations in a recent Boston case have increased national alarm over pedophilia in the priesthood. The now-defrocked Boston priest, John Geoghan, was moved quietly from parish to parish by church officials, and more than 130 people have stepped forward to accuse him of abuse.

Since January, when Geoghan was convicted on a charge of fondling a boy, Boston's cardinal has given police the names of 80 priests accused of molesting children over four decades. Last week, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony reportedly dismissed as many as a dozen priests accused of molestation.

In Santa Rosa, inactive priest Donald Kimball is being tried on charges that he molested two young parishioners in 1977 and 1981.

O'Shea still faces charges of embezzling more than $250,000 donated by nuns and parishioners during his 16 years as pastor of two churches. His lawyers, who cautioned that he has never been convicted and is still legally entitled to the presumption of innocence, said they would try to have his bail lowered and get him released as soon as possible.

The San Francisco Archdiocese, which represents 425,000 Catholics in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties, agreed in 1996 to a $2.5 million settlement with 15 men who said they were molested as boys by O'Shea and two other priests.

The archdiocese said last week that it had reviewed its files and found no evidence of current danger to children.

The now-defrocked O'Shea was ordained in 1958 and rose to become pastor of St. Cecilia Church and Holy Name of Jesus Church and an adviser to former Archbishop John Quinn. He also was director of the San Francisco Society of the Propagation of the Faith, which supports the church's missionary work.


The accusations against him date from 1964 to 1980 but first surfaced in 1994 and came mostly from men who had been altar boys or parochial school students. They ranged in age from 10 to 18 at the time of the alleged molestations.

They told a grand jury that O'Shea sodomized or orally copulated with them, sometimes over several years. As inducements, they said, he gave them liquor, took them boating and let them drive his sports car.

But the criminal case collided with the statute of limitations — the legal deadline that is intended to protect defendants from having to face charges based on old evidence and faulty memories.

California's deadline for reporting child molestation is six years. In the mid-1990s, however, in response to arguments that legitimate complaints were disappearing because the victims — children — were afraid or unable to report them promptly, legislators created some exceptions.

O'Shea was first charged with 16 counts of molestation in 1995 under a new law that allowed for prosecution within a year of a report to authorities that was corroborated by other evidence. The charges were dismissed in May 1997 when state courts ruled that the new law did not revive lapsed cases.


By then, the Legislature had passed another law designed to allow prosecutions for newly reported molestations that took place many years ago. O'Shea was indicted in 1998 under that law on 224 counts involving the same nine alleged victims.

But the state Supreme Court ruled this January that any case dismissed and not refiled before June 30, 1997 — when the former law was in effect — could not be revived by legislative action without violating the constitutional separation of powers.

O'Shea's lawyers argued, and Garcia agreed yesterday, that O'Shea's 1998 indictment fell in that category.

Klee, the prosecutor, argued that at least some charges in the indictment were new — involving different times and places than the charges dismissed earlier — and should be allowed to proceed like any other new case. But Garcia said the 1998 indictment simply rearranged the previous charges.


Events pertaining to Patrick J. O'Shea's priesthood:

— 1958: O'Shea's ordination.

— 1964-1980: Alleged molestation takes place during this period.

— 1978: O'Shea becomes pastor, Holy Name of Jesus Church, S.F.

— 1990: O'Shea becomes pastor of St. Cecilia Church.

— 1993: State extends limitations statute in child-molestation cases.

— January 1995: O'Shea arrested in San Francisco on 16 felony counts of child molestation.

— July 1995: San Francisco Municipal Court judge throws out the charges against O'Shea because law extending statute of limitations cannot be applied retroactively.

— March 1996: Fifteen men settle their personal injury lawsuit against the archdiocese and three Bay Area priests — O'Shea, Gary Timmons of the Santa Rosa Diocese and Austin Patrick Keegan, who served in San Francisco and Santa Rosa — for $2.5 million.

— 1997: Legislature gives special permission to prosecutors to refile dismissed cases for a specified period of time.

— March 1998: Sixteen felony child-molestation charges refiled against O'Shea.

— May 1998: Municipal Court judge dismisses case citing a constitutional ban on ex post facto laws.

— August 1999: State Supreme Court rules the 1993 extension of statute of limitations in child-molestation cases is not unconstitutional.

— April 2000: O'Shea charged with 224 counts of child molestation.

— January 2002: Ruling in a Placer County case, state Supreme Court said any case dismissed and not refiled before June 30, 1997 — when the former law was in effect — could not be revived by legislative action without violating constitutional separation of powers.


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