April 20, 2005
Four Bay Area victims receive $5.78 million in church abuse case
April 20, 2005 [Associated Press] By Lisa Leff
SAN FRANCISCO - A San Francisco jury on Wednesday awarded nearly $5.8 million in damages to four people who were repeatedly fondled as children by a Roman Catholic priest in San Jose.
The plaintiffs, three men and one woman, received $5.78 million total, ranging for $1.3 million to $1.58 million each, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. They had asked for a total of $20 million, while a lawyer for the archdiocese had suggested that $1 million in combined compensation was appropriate.
The archdiocese stipulated at the start of the 2 1/2-week trial that church officials knew in the 1970s that the Rev. Joseph Pritchard had been accused of molesting young parishioners but did not investigate the claims or take steps to protect the children.
As a result, the only question put to jurors was how much the plaintiffs, three men and one woman, should be compensated for psychological suffering and loss of productivity attributed to their abuse, said Larry Drivon, an attorney who represented one of the victims.
"The church was forced to admit that molestation had been occurring and they should have known what was occurring," Drivon said. "It was a historic concession on the part of the church."
During the trial, the plaintiffs testified that Pritchard, who died in 1988, had fondled them under their clothes, sometimes with other children or three other priests watching.
The verdict, reached after 16 hours of deliberation, came less than a month after another jury awarded $437,000 to another man who was molested by Pritchard when the late priest was assigned to St. Martin of Tours church in San Jose. In that case, which involved the first of 24 people who have sued the Archdiocese because of abuse allegedly committed by Pritchard, the jury had to find the church liable before awarding damages.
San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada said in a statement Wednesday that the archdiocese has taken steps to make sure the kind of abuse now being litigated in the courts would never occur today.
"While the incidents of abuse in these lawsuits date back more than two decades ago, this fact does not lessen our vigilance today, nor diminish our concern for victims of past abuse," he said.
The consolidated cases decided Wednesday were the third of more than 750 lawsuits against Roman Catholic dioceses in California to go to trial since the state in 2002 temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for filing old sex-abuse claims. The action came as a response to the child molestation scandal involving Catholic priests nationwide.
Last week, an Oakland jury awarded $1.93 million to two brothers in their 30s who were molested as young boys by the Rev. Robert Ponciroli at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch. Ponciroli, 68, has been removed from public ministry and now lives in Florida.
Posted by Nancy at April 20, 2005 10:53 PM