Man May Never Confront Priest He Says Abused Him
Court Ruling Could Lead to Dropping Case

By Elizabeth Fernandez
San Francisco Chronicle
June 29, 2003

Wayne Presley is a man lost.

He can't work, can't function. He drinks too much, sleeps too little, cries too often.

"People say, 'Let it go, just let it go.' I can't. I can't," says Presley, 44.

For nearly a decade, the Peninsula resident has lived for one moment: In a court of law, he would confront Monsignor Patrick O'Shea, a once-influential and respected Roman Catholic priest in San Francisco, a man Presley says ruined his life after he took Presley under his wing when Presley was 11 years old.

Last week, Presley may have lost his chance forever.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled unconstitutional a California law that extended the legal deadline for filing child-molestation charges. That ruling may result in the charges filed against O'Shea in Presley's case being dropped.

"California's law subjects an individual . . . to prosecution long after the state has, in effect, granted an amnesty," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

The justices said the statute of limitations cannot be erased retroactively,

stunning district attorneys who have been prosecuting decades-old sex crimes. The high court ruling is expected to free O'Shea and hundreds of other convicted or accused sex offenders.

Legislators passed the law, which took effect in 1994, noting the peculiar nature of child abuse -- victims often fail to report the crime when it happens because of shame or fear.

"I think it's a dark day for justice," said Linda Klee, chief of administration for the San Francisco District Attorney's office. She has been prosecuting O'Shea since 1998.

"Many survivors feel this is the criminal justice system favoring the rights of the defendant over theirs," she said.

The law, invoked against some 800 people statewide, including parents, teachers and other members of the general public, cleared the path toward the prosecution of priests who, victim advocates believed, were shielded for years by the Catholic Church.

One of the most prominent was O'Shea, former pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church in the Sunset District and St. Cecilia Church in the Parkside district. A trusted adviser to former Archbishop John R. Quinn, O'Shea was director of the San Francisco Society of the Propagation of the Faith.

Jailed since September, O'Shea, 70, is scheduled to appear in court Monday. His attorneys are asking for his release.

"It's pretty clear the charges have to be dismissed against him," said Stephen Scherr, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney who along with James Collins has represented O'Shea for nine years. "It is pretty hard to prove things that happened 30 or 40 years ago."

But to Wayne Presley, what he says happened so long ago continues to haunt and torment him.

"I have done nothing wrong since I was a little kid," he said, sobbing. "I tried to stand up to O'Shea and the church. I've had to try to prove myself over and over."

To his own sorrow, Presley's brother has stood by helplessly.

"The truth is supposed to be healing, but that didn't happen for Wayne," said John Cervantes, 55, a tennis pro in San Francisco. "His life went into a downward spiral.

"He lost his marriage, he lost his job, he became an alcoholic. You are seeing a casualty of the system," Cervantes said. "He is simply pleading for acknowledgment, pleading for truth, that is all he wants. I've witnessed the deterioration of a human being."

Presley served in the Air Force from 1978 to 1984, working as an instrument specialist. The military is now paying his medical bills.

He dreamed of a career in law enforcement and applied to a Bay Area police agency. He said he passed the physical and written exams, but failed the psychological.

In 1994, a visit by San Francisco police inspectors changed his life. They had been given his name by a former altar boy, Matthew Hadden, the first to file a report against O'Shea.

"I knew Wayne had been abused, but we never talked about it," said Hadden, 44, who lives in the North Bay and works with developmentally disabled adults. "I believe people should come forward to law enforcement. I wish I had done it a lot sooner.

"A lot of what has happened to Wayne has happened to me too," said Hadden, who underwent extensive therapy. "I can't blame all of life's problems on the abuse, but the effects of it for Wayne and for myself continue today and probably will for the rest of our lives."

On that March day in 1994, Presley for the first time described to police the abuse he said O'Shea inflicted on him.

Starting when Presley was in the fifth or sixth grade, O'Shea took him numerous times to a trailer he owned at Lake Berryessa, according to a confidential police report. Sometimes other altar boys accompanied them. O'Shea also took him to Lake Tahoe and Palm Springs. O'Shea gave the boys beer and hard liquor, according to the report.

"O'Shea usually took Wayne into his private bedroom," the police report said. "While in O'Shea's bed, O'Shea orally copulated Wayne. On some of the occasions, Wayne sodomized O'Shea at O'Shea's request. Out of at least 75 trips to the lake, O'Shea orally copulated Wayne about 50 of these times."

The police report said O'Shea also took Presley many times to his home at Most Holy Redeemer parish where abuse occurred.

"O'Shea always gave Wayne liquor to drink at the rectory prior to any sexual contact," according to the report.

"I never told anyone about it," Presley said, "but, without a doubt, I remember all of it. I was embarrassed. I was in denial. It was a bad, dirty secret -- you don't want to talk about it."

Presley's case formed part of a 224-count indictment against O'Shea in 2000.

The indictment said O'Shea molested nine youths in the 1960s and 1970s.

Presley was also part of a $2.5 million settlement by the San Francisco Archdiocese to 15 men over the conduct of three Bay Area priests, including O'Shea.

The San Francisco Archdiocese in 1995 permanently stripped O'Shea of his priestly duties. In 1999, the archdiocese sued him, accusing him of stealing nearly $252,000 "in a continuous and sophisticated scheme of embezzlement." An application to formally laicize him -- the process of formally removing him from "the clerical state" -- is pending.

"He does not operate as a priest in any way," said Maurice Healy, the archdiocese's director of communications.

Last year, in a crushing disappointment to Presley and others, the indictment was dismissed by a judge who said prosecutors waited too long to file it.

But two new, 25-count indictments alleging child abuse in the late 1960s and early 1970s were later filed on behalf of three victims, and O'Shea was brought into custody last fall.

O'Shea "left all the victims in bad shape," prosecutor Klee said. "Some recovered better than others, but to some extent, you don't get over it."

O'Shea has denied all the allegations and pleaded not guilty.

"There is no evidence," his attorney Stephen Scherr said. "We're very gratified that he doesn't have to face charges that are so old."

Presley would have testified at O'Shea's trial as a corroborating witness.

"I had faith in the law," he said. "I still do. Telling what happened to me came at a cost, but I'm not giving up. I know some good has to be found here."


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