Catholic Church Sued over Abuse by Priest Who Died in 1989

By Robert Airoldi
Daily Review
December 26, 2003

A third man has filed a civil suit claiming he was sexually abused 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 boy. The suit lists the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland and Bishop John S. Cummins as defendants and asks for a jury trial.

On Dec. 10 two Fremont brothers -- now 45 and 44 -- filed a civil suit claiming they were abused by Clark. The third man came forward shortly afterward, and his suit was filed Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court.

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.

The diocese has said it has no record of Clark ever behaving inappropriately.

The most recent plaintiff claims he was abused while serving as an altar boy from 1971 to 1973, beginning when he was 8.

Others who knew Clark paint a different picture, however.

Tim Avila, a former parishioner at Corpus Christi who served as an altar boy from 1976 to 1982, acknowledges that there are cases of abuse in the church that must be told but says he never saw Clark behave inappropriately.

"He was a dear friend and a great man," Avila said. "He was a spiritual leader who provided guidance and support."

Avila, his brother and his sister all attended the Niles parish and had good relationships with Clark, he said.

He recalled that his younger sister wanted to follow in the footsteps of her two older brothers and serve as an altar girl.

But at that time, the church had a different position, Avila said, so Clark encouraged his sister to write a letter to the pope. She did, and the letter was published in the parish newsletter.

"Two years later, there were altar girls at Corpus Christi Church," Avila said. "That's the kind of person he was. In my experience, he cared a lot about kids."


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