Valencia Man Files Lawsuit Accusing Priest of Molestation

By Naush Boghossian
Daily News of Los Angeles
June 26, 2002

SANTA CLARITA - A Valencia man is suing a retired Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, claiming he sexually abused him 50 years ago.

Thomas Dorrell, 62, alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court that the Rev. Sylvester Hoppe molested him between 1951 and 1954 in St. Joseph, Mo.

Hoppe's attorney, Jim Wyrsch, said his client - who is now 90 and lives in St. Joseph - denies the allegations.

"He denies the allegations and we expect to vigorously defend ourselves," Wyrsch said. "He has received no complaints for 50 years and as a Catholic priest, he's very disappointed somebody would make these allegations of him."

Dorrell also is suing the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Archdiocese of Orange County, claiming that church officials knew about the alleged abuse and covered it up.

Wyrsch believes the statute of limitations will bar this case while Dorrell's attorney, Paul A. deMontesquiou, believes the case meets certain criteria for which the statute of limitations has not run out.

Though he didn't specify the amount, deMontesquiou said they are seeking "fair compensation" for what Dorrell claims he experienced.

Dorrell decided to take action against Hoppe when his sister in Kansas sent him an article from a religious paper in which a bishop made a statement that there has never been a pedophilia problem in his diocese.

The priest explained that no such incidents were in Hoppe's records, but he offered to arrange for six months of counseling after Dorrell made the allegations.

"I hung up and said it's time we get an attorney and do what we need to do to expose Father Hoppe and the diocese for sweeping this particular father's actions under the rug," Dorrell said.

Although Dorrell said he does not expect to receive any financial compensation through the lawsuit, he hopes to expose Hoppe as a pedophile, to encourage others who have been abused as children to come forward, and to start a support group with his psychiatrist to help victims who have suffered abuse at the hands of the church.

"It'll help them get back to living their lives the way they should have, prior to being assaulted," he said. "After being assaulted, their whole life changes, and they're not the person they could have been emotionally. They lose a lot of their security, they have very little confidence in themselves, and it just goes on and on."

After Dorrell contacted church officials, the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese investigated the allegations against Hoppe, and as a result, Hoppe was banned from celebrating Mass publicly and performing other sacraments, reports said.

Dorrell, who is agnostic and was not raised a Catholic, said Hoppe was a close friend of his relatives.

When his parents divorced, he lived with different relatives as well as with Hoppe at the rectory.

"That's when the molestation began," Dorrell said. "Sex acts were performed. He was trying to coax me into oral sex, and he was exposing me to other sexual activities."

He cited an incident at a Boy Scout jamboree at Irvine Lake in 1953 and a two-week trip with Hoppe and two other boys to California in 1954.

Dorrell alleges that they stayed in a home in the San Fernando Valley where Hoppe molested all of them. After that trip, Dorrell distanced himself from the church and the priest.

Dorrell, who said he never kept the abuse a secret from his friends and family, said he did tell his mother about Hoppe when he was a young boy.

"She said, 'I never want to hear you say something like that about Father Hoppe again. That's just terrible,' and that was the end of it," he said. "Back in those days, it was pretty hard for anybody to believe a priest could do something like that."

Despite some difficulties, including dropping out of high school and three marriages, Dorrell said he has been successful at work and with life in general because he didn't let his past experiences stop him from moving on.

"The memories were there. I lived with them and followed my nose and kept right on going," he said. "You can't get over your memories, but you can't sit on the pity pot and say poor me, and not accomplish anything."

Now, Dorrell likes to think he and the thousands of others who have recently filed lawsuits alleging sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church are on a crusade to prevent this type of abuse from occurring again.

"I'd have to say there's some contempt there, and I feel that he should have to be accountable for what he did to me and anybody else," Dorrell said about Hoppe. "If there's any way that I can contribute or the church can contribute or the long arm of the law can contribute to keep a child from being abused, that's what needs to be done."


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