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Paul Kiesel
Paul Kiesel
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5 sexual abuse cases against Diocese of San Diego set for trial

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The San Diego Union-Tribune reports today that 5 cases are scheduled for trial in early 2007 as part of the Southern California clergy abuse litigation against the Roman Catholic Church. The priests whose sexual abuse will be the subject of these San Diego trials include Patrick O’Keeffe, John Daly, Edward Anthony Rodrigue, William Kraft, and Franz Robier.

Nicki Rister said she was 17 when the parish priest, the Rev. Patrick O’Keeffe, coaxed her into having sex. The year was 1972, and Rister was a member of the choir at St. Adelaide Catholic Church in the San Bernardino suburb of Highland.

Details of the alleged molestation will be revealed in a downtown courtroom beginning Jan. 17. Rister’s case against the Diocese of San Diego (of which San Bernardino was once a part) will be the first of five abuse lawsuits against Catholic priests to be tried here.

Superior Court Judge John Einhorn ruled Monday that Rister’s case would be followed with three others by men who say they were molested in the 1970s. The fifth case released for trial after nearly three years of unsuccessful mediation has been assigned to another judge…

Though the article is accurate with regard to the setting of trials, an important clarification is in order: These lawsuits, with very rare exception, have not been filed against the priests who are accused of molestation. The lawsuits have been filed against the priests’ employers –The Diocese of San Diego and some of its member parishes. These institutions stand accused of failing to protect children from known sexual abusers in their midst and are the main defendants in these cases.

Though just 5 San Diego cases are set for trial at this time, more than 150 individually-filed cases face the Dioceses of San Diego and San Bernardino for failure to protect children from known abuse by molesting clergy. To the north, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is facing more than 550 of these individually-filed cases. The court has set for trial 5 of the Los Angeles cases as well, bringing the total number of Southern California cases set for trial to 10.

Further in the article, Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York and an expert in church-abuse cases, tells us that these initial trials may play a critical role in resolving all the cases in Southern California:

“Nobody expects these hundreds of cases lumped together in San Diego and Los Angeles to all go to trial…No judge would ever permit that – the system simply could not handle it. These initial cases are designed to permit a window into the question of liability and damage amounts, so the rest can be settled.”

You can read the full article here. For more information on the Southern California catholic clergy abuse cases, please contact Kiesel, Boucher, and Larson.