Men Sue 2 Ex-Priests, San Diego Diocese; Accusers Claim They Were Molested As Boys

By Sandi Dolbee and Susan Gembrowski
San Diego Union-Tribune
August 16, 2002

Two former Imperial County priests and the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego are being sued by men who say they were molested when they were minors and that church officials did nothing about it.

In separate lawsuits, the two men claim the diocese transferred their alleged attackers from parish to parish and that the conduct of the defendants "has resulted in a legacy of pain and emotional devastation."

The Rev. John Daly, who died in 1989, is accused in one suit of molesting a 16-year-old hitchhiker in 1977 after the teen-ager sought overnight shelter at St. Joseph Church in Holtville.

In the other, the Rev. George Lally, who apparently is no longer a priest, is accused of molesting a 9-year-old altar boy in 1971 at St. Mary Church in El Centro.

The lawsuits, the first to hit San Diego since the storm of clergy abuse allegations began in January, parallel hundreds filed in dioceses across the country.

"I expect there will be several more in San Diego County," said Beverly Hills attorney Raymond Boucher, who filed both lawsuits in San Diego County Superior Court late Wednesday.

Boucher's firm is representing about 60 victims in four dioceses in the state. Like many of the other lawsuits across the country, the Imperial County cases don't stop with claims of abuse. They also allege conspiracy, negligence and secrecy on the part of the church hierarchy.

"As we dig deeper, we learn through arrogance or ignorance the Catholic Church felt they were above the law and these priests did not have to report to the criminal justice system," Boucher said yesterday. "They hid the facts about these priests, they lied about these priests and they covered up the trail."

Among the defendants in these two lawsuits is San Diego Bishop Robert Brom, who took over in 1990, replacing the late Leo Maher.

Even though Brom was not here in the 1970s, Boucher said he still holds the bishop responsible. "They have records on the priests and files they maintain, and that doesn't just disappear."

Officials in the San Diego diocese, which includes San Diego and Imperial counties, had not yet seen the lawsuits and would not comment yesterday. A spokeswoman had no details about the two accused priests.

In previous interviews, Brom has repeatedly stressed his support for zero tolerance for abusive priests -- past and present. Last week, he announced he was barring from ministry a retired priest who admitted to molesting three men when they were minors. He also called for any more victims of Monsignor Rudolph Galindo to contact the diocese.

Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero could not be reached for comment. However, San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst said neither Daly nor Lally was among the names of more than two dozen priests that the diocese turned over to prosecutors recently in response to the national scandal. Pfingst said it was a "welcome development" that the alleged victims are coming forward publicly.

In the Holtville case, a now-41-year-old man who lives in Kansas alleges Daly picked up him and a friend while they were hitchhiking and offered them shelter at the church. That night, he awoke and found Daly molesting him, he says. He and his friend ran off.

The man reported the attack to Holtville police that night -- but charges were never filed, according to Walter Lundstein, who was the arresting officer in 1977.

Lundstein, who left the police department and now lives in Escondido, said the teen-agers "came to the police station and seemed very upset. They were really hesitant to talk."

The boys told Lundstein they were on Interstate 8 in El Centro, about 10 miles from Holtville, when a man pulled up in a car and offered help.

"He took them to Holtville and parked in the back of the church, telling them he was the janitor," Lundstein said.

The alleged victim said he woke up "feeling someone orally copulating him." He told Lundstein he yelled, woke up his friend and took off. Lundstein said after they told him about the allegation, the officer went to the church and found Daly naked. The priest was booked into the local jail on suspicion of sexual perversion and oral copulation of a minor, according to the Holtville Police Department.

Lundstein said that two or three days after the arrest, he got a call from the Imperial County District Attorney's Office telling him the diocese was moving Daly out of the area and so prosecutors would not file charges.

In the meantime, Lundstein said he discovered that Daly had been arrested previously on suspicion of similar crimes in La Mesa and San Bernardino.

While the diocese refused to answer questions, one longtime parishioner at St. Joseph's said Daly suddenly left the Holtville parish about the same time as the arrest. Parishioners, who apparently were unaware of the police action, wondered what happened.

Daly was ordained in 1951 and served at several parishes in San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties over the next 25 years, according to annual diocese directories. In 1978, when the San Bernardino region broke off from the San Diego diocese, Daly apparently transferred to that jurisdiction.

He retired in 1987 and died two years later in Hesperia at age 68.

In the second lawsuit, involving St. Mary's in El Centro, the attorney said Lally arranged to be alone with the altar boy and then sexually abused him. The boy reported the attack to the church's monsignor, according to the lawsuit, and Lally was sent to a different parish in the diocese.

Little is known about Lally. According to annual directories, the diocese lists him as being at St. Mary's in El Centro in the early 1970s. By 1976, however, the directory did not list him.

It is believed that Lally left the priesthood, got married and lives in Southern California. He could not be reached for comment.


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