Oakland Diocese Faces New Abuse Suit
Former Priest's Alleged Treatment of Two Brothers from 1968-1980 LED One to Sever Hand, Become Institutionalized
By Robert Airoldi
December 12, 2003
Two Fremont brothers have filed a civil suit alleging abuse by a since-deceased Roman Catholic priest who served for almost 20 years at a Niles church where a gym is named in his honor.
The lawsuit accuses the Rev. James Clark -- who died in 1989 after serving at Corpus Christi Church from 1965 to 1984 -- of sexually, mentally and physically abusing the two boys.
The suit lists the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland and Bishop John S. Cummins as defendants and asks for a jury trial.
The diocese recently settled a civil suit with former Fremont resident Mark Bogdanowicz, agreeing to pay him $1.05 million for abuse he suffered at the hands of the Rev. Robert Freitas at Santa Paula parish in Fremont more than 20 years ago.
But Sister Barbara Flannery, Chancellor of the Oakland Diocese, said Thursday there is no record of Clark behaving inappropriately.
The suit was filed Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court by two brothers, now 45 and 44, who knew Clark as their parish priest, spiritual counselor and director of altar boys, according to the suit.
The younger of the two men said Thursday he did not set out to sue the church.
"I'm well off. I don't need the money; It won't change my life," he said. "But to be ignored and lied to by the church isn't acceptable. People are trying to heal."
The younger boy was abused from 1968 to 1972, while his older brother suffered abuse from 1970 to 1980, according to the suit.
In 1980, shortly after a molestation incident, the older boy suffered a mental breakdown and, using a serrated fishing knife, sawed his hand off above the thumb, said attorney Terry Gross, with the San Francisco firm of Gross and Belsky.
"He thought it would ensure his entrance into heaven," Gross said.
The hand was reattached, but the man has only 60 percent use of it. He remains in an institution.
It took two decades for the younger brother to seek closure.
At Gross' suggestion, the younger brother approached the diocese last year in an effort to heal, he said.
But when church leaders told the younger brother one thing and the media another, he got frustrated, he said.
"I started this to work out my own conflict and help my brother," said the younger brother, who insists there are additional victims. "I didn't want to sue the Catholic Church. My brother and I will never be made whole from this."
"We wanted an admission and for them to help pay for continuing therapy for the boys," Gross said.
Flannery recalled talking with the younger brother, who she called a "wonderful individual" with "a credible story."
But, she said, "We have nothing in any records that indicate Father Clark was ever involved with children in any kind of way that would be inappropriate."
The younger brother said that's the type of comment that led him to file the lawsuit.
"I've experienced the cover-up I've read about in newspapers," he said.
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