New Suits Target Ex-Inland Priests
Court: As the State's Dec. 31 Deadline for Filing the Molestation Cases Neared, More Accusers Came Forward

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside CA]
January 17, 2004

Lawsuits accusing one-time Inland priests of sexual abuse continue to surface, with at least 26 cases now on file targeting 12 Roman Catholic clerics or religious brothers who worked in the Inland area after the mid-1950s.

Seventeen of those pending cases target the Diocese of San Bernardino and, in most instances, also the Diocese of San Diego, which managed the parishes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties until the Inland diocese was created in November 1978. The remaining litigation targets only the San Diego diocese.

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the million-member San Bernardino diocese, declined comment Friday on specifics of the cases, saying the diocese has not been served with the lawsuits, many of which were filed last month.

"The bulk of the lawsuits that we are seeing allegedly occurred when we were part of the Diocese of San Diego. San Diego has agreed to defend these cases and indemnify our diocese," Lincoln said by phone.

Rodrigo Valdivia, chancellor of the San Diego diocese, agreed, saying by telephone Friday that his diocese will pay costs incurred by the San Bernardino Diocese from lawsuits alleging clergy misconduct before 1978. Valdivia estimated there are 95 sexual-abuse lawsuits pending against the San Diego diocese, but he was unsure how many involve onetime Inland priests.

"We knew that there is a large number (of lawsuits), but we have no way of estimating what the financial impact will be," Valdivia said.

An estimated 800 cases were filed statewide this year. Most were filed last month as attorneys sought to beat the Dec. 31 deadline in a state law that temporarily allowed molestation victims to sue their abusers' employers even though the statute of limitations had expired.

Copies of seven new cases name four onetime Inland priests, including the Rev. Gustavo Benson, accused of molesting a 14-year-old altar boy at San Salvador Church in Colton, according to the lawsuit documents. The man, now 32, accuses Benson of giving him alcohol and taking him to dinners and movies over the course of four years before molesting him in 1985, according to the lawsuit.

Benson, accused of misconduct in another pending lawsuit, could not be located for comment Friday.

Another case names Monsignor Joseph R. Nunez, who died in 1968 after working for nearly 40 years as a priest primarily in San Bernardino County. In the lawsuit, a man accuses Nunez of molesting him at an unnamed San Bernardino Catholic school in 1956-57.

The man, then 12 years old, told another priest about the abuse, but the molestations continued, according to the lawsuit filed last month.

Two of the lawsuits accuse Monsignor Patrick O'Keeffe of sexual misconduct, including a case brought by a woman who alleges that the cleric molested her in 1972, when she was a 17-year-old parishioner at St. Adelaide Church in Highland. Her accusations led San Bernardino County prosecutors to file molestation charges against O'Keeffe in 2002. The case was dismissed after a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down the law that allowed prosecutors to file charges after the statute of limitations had expired.

In the second case, a woman accuses O'Keeffe of molesting her at a Chula Vista church in 1958. O'Keeffe is targeted in two other lawsuits, which accuse him of molesting two girls in Chula Vista in the late 1950s and a 14-year-old student at St. Margaret Mary School in Chino in 1990.

O'Keeffe could not be reached for comment. He returned to his native Ireland in mid-2002, just weeks before prosecutors charged him.

Three recently filed cases accuse the former Rev. Edward Anthony Rodrigue of molesting boys in Encinitas, El Centro and Calexico in the 1950s and the 1970s. Other pending lawsuits accuse Rodrigue of abusing five boys at St. George Church in Ontario in the late 1970s.

Rodrigue, who was defrocked in 1992, is serving a 10-year sentence in state prison. In 1998, he pleaded no contest to molesting a developmentally disabled Highland boy.

In another lawsuit, a man alleges that he was repeatedly molested as a boy in 1961 by unnamed brothers at the former Boys Town of the Desert in Banning and at a similar facility in San Diego.


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