Suit Filed Alleging Sex Abuse by Priest; Incidents Began in 1950s, Women Say

By Sandi Dolbee
San Diego Union-Tribune
December 11, 2003

Two more women have filed a lawsuit alleging that a now-deceased Catholic priest sexually abused them decades ago when they were minors at their San Diego parish.

Filed yesterday in San Diego County Superior Court, the civil suit alleges that the two women, identified as Cheryl Gomez and Marie Hall, were molested by the Rev. Franz Robier going back to the 1950s when they attended Holy Spirit Catholic Church and continuing after he went to other parishes.

This suit joins at least three others involving Robier, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

At a news conference yesterday afternoon outside diocesan headquarters, attorneys accused church leaders of covering up Robier's alleged offenses.

"We're here to sound the alarm that this diocese protected this predator for years and kept this a secret," said Jeffrey Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who specializes in clergy abuse cases. "And we're deeply concerned about all the other survivors and victims that are out there who are blaming themselves to this day and suffering in silence the way these young girls did, and thinking it was their fault."

Gomez and Hall, who no longer live in San Diego, were not at the meeting with media. But Anderson described Robier, who died in 1994, as "one of the most notorious predators that we know of" in this diocese and said he has identified 17 victims -- females who were minors at the time.

Robier came to San Diego in the 1950s and served churches here and in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before retiring in 1983, according to the lawsuit. At one point, Anderson said Robier was sent to a New Mexico treatment center because of abuse complaints but was allowed to return by then-Bishop Charles F. Buddy.

The diocese said it could not discuss the accusations because they are part of civil litigation. But Monsignor Steven Callahan, a diocesan spokesman, said officials "could find no evidence of anything being covered up."

Meanwhile, a flurry of additional clergy abuse lawsuits are expected to be filed in the coming weeks before a special one-year window closes. In January, a new state law went into effect allowing sexual-abuse victims to pursue decades-old cases in civil court through 2003.

Joining the attorneys yesterday was a representative from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and a woman who previously filed a lawsuit against another priest. They said victims want healing, a chance to protect others, vindication and accountability.

"They're doing it not because of money," Anderson added. "They're doing it because they have to and they've been made to do it by the church they once trusted and has now betrayed them and continues to betray them."

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the San Diego diocese as this national controversy continues through its second year. When asked about the prospect of more civil claims, Monsignor Callahan replied: "We're committed to trying to resolve them in the best way that we can as they come forward."


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