Two Lawsuits Blame Top Clergy in Abuse
Holding to Account: Men in Santa Cruz County, S.J. Say Officials Should Have; Scandal in the Catholic Church

By Brandon Bailey
San Jose Mercury News [California]
March 1, 2003

Two San Jose brothers filed a lawsuit Friday that suggests Roman Catholic Church officials should have known about inappropriate behavior by the Rev. Leonel Noia, a popular local priest, before he was convicted of lewd conduct with a minor in 1976.

The two brothers, who were 12 and 14 when they told police that year that Noia had molested them during an overnight campout, now say that Noia routinely offered to share alcohol, marijuana and pornography with them and other boys at St. Patrick Parish in San Jose.

In a separate lawsuit filed this week, four Santa Cruz County men are seeking to hold church officials responsible for their alleged molestation by a now-dead priest in Felton, where the four served as altar boys in the 1960s.

That suit alleges that church officials should have known the Rev. Patrick McHugh was sexually attracted to children and suggests that McHugh may have victimized others before he was transferred to St. John Parish in Felton. McHugh died in 1979.

In both cases, attorneys for the men say they were able to bring their claims to court because of a new state law that temporarily suspends the statute of limitations for lawsuits aimed at holding the church responsible for molestations that occurred years ago.

Both suits were filed by attorneys Robert L. Mezzetti II, Jean Starcevich and Robert Tobin, who negotiated a $7.5 million settlement last year on behalf of two mentally retarded men who were molested by two Jesuit clergymen at a religious center in Los Gatos.

"People need to be held accountable," said Kim Allyn, one of the Santa Cruz County plaintiffs. Allyn, now 50, is a veteran sheriff's deputy who said he and three other youths were molested by McHugh when they were altar boys at St. John Parish. Their attorneys identified the other plaintiffs as William Collins, Robert Jerome Crow and a man who is described in court papers only as James Doe.

Like many other victims of childhood abuse, Allyn said the experience has haunted him into adulthood. He said that when he tried to tell his parents, McHugh denied doing anything wrong. And though he wrestled with the decision to step forward this year, Allyn said he hoped that by speaking out he could encourage other victims to seek counseling or assistance.

The two brothers in the San Jose case say they also have suffered for years. One said he blames the molestation for drug problems and other difficulties that he struggled to overcome as an adult. Now 39, he asked the Mercury News to withhold his name to protect his wife and children from embarrassment.

In the San Jose case, Noia was originally charged with molesting both brothers in 1976, after they told police that he offered them drugs and fondled them during a camping trip that year. The priest eventually pleaded no contest to lewd conduct with one brother and the other charge was dismissed.

But the 39-year-old plaintiff said church officials brushed off his parents when they asked for an apology or counseling for their sons. "I felt like we were swept under the rug and nobody was held accountable," he said.

After he completed a period of probation and counseling, Noia was allowed to return to service as a priest by officials of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which governed Catholic churches in San Jose at the time. He went on to become a popular pastor at Five Wounds Portuguese National Church in San Jose.

But last year, as the Roman Catholic Church was buffeted by a scandal over sexual abuse, San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath announced that Noia would no longer be allowed to perform any public functions as a priest. Noia could not be reached for comment Friday.

In their new lawsuit, the attorneys for the two San Jose brothers allege that church officials should have known about Noia's inappropriate behavior toward a number of boys, although it provides no evidence of any other molestations.

A spokesman for the San Francisco Archdiocese could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Diocese of San Jose said she had no immediate comment.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Monterey, which governs churches in Santa Cruz County, offered a brief statement on the allegations against McHugh.

"The diocese is committed to a compassionate response to all who have had to live with sexual abuse, both to them and their families," Kevin Drabinski said.

He said the diocese had previously tried to offer counseling to some of the plaintiffs in the case. Drabinski had no immediate comment on the lawsuit's allegations that McHugh may have molested other victims during previous assignments, before he served at St. John Parish.

Neither lawsuit identifies Noia or McHugh by name. Noia is named in criminal court files as the priest who was convicted of molesting one of the brothers bringing the current lawsuit. McHugh was identified in interviews with attorneys and was previously named in a Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper article that described allegations against him last year.

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