Defrocked East Bay Priest Sued
Former Altar Boy, 32, Claims Robert Ponciroli Molested and Battered Him

By Brian Anderson
Contra Costa Times
August 9, 2002

A defrocked East Bay priest at the center of sexual abuse investigations in two cities where he once served has been blamed in a lawsuit filed this week of molesting an altar boy over the course of a year.

Robert Ponciroli, 65, who is the subject of an Antioch police investigation, exploited, molested and battered the now 32-year-old man from 1980-81 while at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch, lawyers for the unidentified victim said in the lawsuit.

Ponciroli's alleged victim was a trusting altar boy who was assured the conduct was proper, according to the suit.

What's more, lawyers said in court papers, Catholic church officials knew or at least should have known of his "dangerous and exploitative propensities."

Now living in Arizona, the plaintiff contends in the suit that he suffered psychological and physical damages.

"He is an educated, articulate man who has kept a secret for many years and suffered in silence," his lawyer, Laurence Drivon, of Stockton, told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

Filed on Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, the suit zeroed in on greater details of the abuse case that church officials said they reported to police earlier this year.

Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the Oakland Diocese, said Thursday that the man behind the complaint told her in March that he had been abused. She immediately called the police, she said.

Antioch police Lt. Rick Marchoke said the investigation is ongoing and they have yet to determine how much longer it will continue.

At least three other people from the Antioch church have come forward with more allegations of abuse, Sister Flannery said.

But she acknowledged that church officials became aware of another allegation of sexual abuse involving Ponciroli during his time at Richmond's St. Cornelius Catholic Church in 1975. She also said that a second police department, which she did not identify, was investigating Ponciroli.

Ordained in 1969, the former priest was at churches in San Leandro, Oakland, Richmond, Castro Valley, Antioch, Brentwood and Byron.

The diocese is not conducting its own investigation of the former priest, who she said was stripped of his duties in 1995 and underwent therapy.

"We've already made our judgment and removed Robert Ponciroli," Flannery said.

Drivon said the diocese has settled two complaints surrounding allegations connected to Ponciroli, but that could not be confirmed.

Lawyers asked in the lawsuit for medical and general damages, but the plaintiff said the case is about more than money.

"I still believe there are others out there that have been affected and may be reluctant to come forward," he said in a printed statement that his lawyers gave to reporters. "It is my hope that this matter will bring those victims forward so that we can all put this behind us once and for all."


* 1969 -- Ordained

* 1970 -- San Leandro

* 1971-74 -- Oakland

* 1975 -- Richmond (St. Cornelius)

* 1976-79 -- Castro Valley (Our Lady of Grace)

* 1979-83 -- Antioch (St. Ignatius)

* 1984-86 -- Not listed

* 1986-94 -- Brentwood (Immaculate Heart of Mary)

* 1994-95 -- Byron (St. Anne's Parish)

* 1995 -- Defrocked but remained with the church to undergo therapy. Retired and left for good in 1999.


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