Plaintiff in Abuse Case Speaks out

By Guy Kovner
Press Democrat
January 13, 2005

A former Calistoga altar boy said he lived with a painful secret for years before acknowledging his past and filing a sex abuse lawsuit against his alleged molester.

"I'm tired of secrets and living in a lie," Greg Sloan, 48, said in a telephone interview from his home in the Skierra foothills town of Sonora.

Sloan's lawsuit, filed more than two years ago, is the first of 11 claims against the Santa Rosa Diocese heading for trial, after a judge this week issued a final ruling refusing the Catholic Church's request to throw out the case.

Sloan accuses the Rev. Patrick Gleeson of repeatedly molesting him in a Calistoga rectory from 1968 to 1972. Gleeson, a North Coast priest for 38 years, died in 1991.

In going to court and now casting off his anonymity, Sloan, who works as a contractor, said he is fighting off years of bottled-up shame, anger and depression.

"It helps with the healing," he said, speaking publicly of the alleged incidents for the first time. "It's kind of liberating to live in the truth."

Raised in a Catholic family with 11 brothers and sisters, Sloan said he began serving as an altar boy at Calistoga's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church at about age 10.

He attended catechism lessons at the church and developed a close relationship with the new pastor, Patrick Gleeson, who ate dinner and joined Christmas celebrations at the Sloan house. Gleeson hired Sloan to stay after church and count collection plate proceeds. Later, Sloan said, the priest bought him clothes and a motorcycle and let him drive Gleeson's car.

When Gleeson was named citizen of the month by Calistoga's weekly newspaper in August 1973, he gave the award to Sloan.

The massages that were the first physical contact between them "seemed to be normal," Sloan said. Like most Catholic children, Sloan said, he was fearful of a priest's authority.

"You look at this guy in a black outfit and a collar as God or his representative," he said.

The alleged molestations that followed were his first sexual experience, and Sloan said it has affected the rest of his life, including his relationship today with his wife and children. He has problems with intimacy and trusting others, "even those I love," Sloan said in his sworn declaration.

As the sex abuse scandal began breaking open in the 1990s, Sloan said he decided it was time to share his secret with someone other than his wife.

If he wins money from the Santa Rosa diocese, he will use some of it for continued counseling, he said. But if he were to prevail, Sloan said most of all he wants church officials to appreciate the depth of a victim's pain and how it ripples through his family's life.

"You can't erase the past," Sloan said, "but I would like them to be able to understand that."

Key to this case is a claim by Sloan that another priest witnessed Gleeson leading the boy Sloan into his bedroom. An Oakland judge, in rejecting the church's bid for dismissal, said a jury should determine the credibility of the claim.

That's put the attention on the Rev. Michael Culligan, pastor of St. James Church in Petaluma.

Sloan, from a photograph, identified Culligan as the priest at the rectory with Gleeson. An attorney for the church said Culligan would not comment to the media on the case.

But in a written statement distributed last weekend at both Catholic churches in Petaluma, Culligan denied Sloan's allegations.

Culligan said he had visited the Calistoga rectory but never saw any child go up to Gleeson's bedroom to spend the night.

Culligan's statement said it was "extremely upsetting to me to have been misidentified and falsely accused of knowledge of abuse at the eleventh hour, only when a plaintiff's case is in jeopardy."

Sloan, like all plaintiffs in the hundreds of California clergy sex abuse cases, must prove that church officials were aware of the offending priest's misconduct. Under oath, Sloan has said that he told no one in the diocese about the alleged misconduct prior to 2002.

With Sloan's case back on track for a jury trial, attorneys for the diocese and Sloan said a sworn statement will be taken from Culligan.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.