Diocese Seeks Dismissal of Sex Abuse Suit

By Guy Kovner
Press Democrat
September 14, 2004

The Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese is seeking dismissal of one of the 12 sex abuse lawsuits against it, alleging there is no evidence church officials knew of the accused priest's misconduct.

It's the legally embattled diocese's first move to eliminate one of the dozen civil lawsuits, which attorneys for both sides say could cost the diocese $3 million each.

Similar steps may be taken to dismiss "several" of the other suits, said Adrienne Moran, attorney for the Santa Rosa diocese. She declined to say how many cases might be challenged prior to trial or settlement.

Getting a case tossed out of court would be "very good for the church's interests," Moran said.

The lawsuits name three alleged molesters, defrocked priests Don Kimball and Gary Timmons and the Rev. Patrick Gleeson, who died before two claims were filed against him.

Statewide, more than 700 lawsuits are pending against Catholic dioceses, all alleging that bishops or other church officials "knew or should have known" that a local priest was molesting children.

A suit filed nearly two years ago by an anonymous victim identified as "John Doe" alleged that Gleeson abused him from 1968-72.

Gleeson, pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Calistoga during that period, died in 1991 at age 66.

The "John Doe" lawsuit is "unique," Moran said, because the alleged victim, in a sworn deposition, said he told no one associated with the diocese about the alleged molestation by Gleeson until 2002.

The alleged victim also said he had "no reason to believe that anyone in the diocese knew what Father Gleeson had done" prior to 2002, Moran's motion says.

Set for a hearing on Sept. 28, her motion asks Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw to dismiss the "John Doe" lawsuit.

Sabraw, who is handling about 160 sex abuse lawsuits from Santa Rosa and seven other dioceses, dismissed four cases against an East Bay priest earlier this month.

Moran said her motion was based on Sabraw's ruling in those cases that there must be strong evidence that church officials had been advised of a priest's misconduct with children.

"The judge ruled that conjecture is not going to cut it," Moran said. "That's what we have here (in the Gleeson case). Just smoke and mirrors and conjecture."

Larry Drivon, an attorney for "John Doe," said Moran's motion is "clearly premature." Doe may not have told anyone of the alleged abuse, but "that doesn't settle the issue," said Drivon, a Stockton attorney handling nine of the Santa Rosa lawsuits.

Another witness or a document may establish that church officials knew of Gleeson's misconduct, Drivon said.

Drivon said he expects the Santa Rosa diocese will seek dismissal of all the lawsuits. "What have they got to lose?" he said.

Moran said she intends to take a sworn statement from the alleged victim, identified as "Mike Doe," in another lawsuit against Gleeson and the Santa Rosa diocese and may file a motion for dismissal based on the results.

The Santa Rosa diocese, roiled for a decade by revelations of sexual misconduct by priests going back some 40 years, has acknowledged payments of $8.6 million to victims.

Diocese officials have said there are credible allegations of misconduct against 16 priests. Seven have been publicly identified; the diocese cites privacy of the accused priests as justification for not identifying the other nine. None remains in the active ministry here, officials have said.


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