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Sex Abuse Crisis

National crisis draws attention to local abuse cases


Nationwide the glare of publicity on clergy sexual abuse is revealing more cases -- not all of them being successfully prosecuted. In San Francisco the state Superior Court dismissed 224 molestation counts against Msgr. Patrick O’Shea due to what County Prosecutor Linda Klee a “hypertechnical interpretation of the law.”

A spokesperson for the prosecutor told NCR the decision will be appealed, and if any other complaints against O’Shea emerge those will be prosecuted.

In brief, since 1995 the state has been trying to prosecute O’Shea, 67, for molesting nine boys in the 1960s and 1970s. To make this and similar prosecutions possible, the California State legislature approved a ruling in 1994 allowing cases to go forward even when the six-year statute of limitations had expired.

Two years later the state appeals court ruled the law could not be applied retroactively and dismissed the case.

State legislators agreed on a new law taking the appeals court decision into account, and San Francisco County prosecutors returned to their case. Now the state Superior Court has stopped the case from proceeding because the appeals court has already dismissed the charges.

In March 1994 San Francisco police notified the archdiocese that O’Shea was under investigation for child sexual abuse. The complaints, an archdiocesan spokesperson told NCR, covered a period from the early 1960s to the late 1980s.

O’Shea was removed as pastor and placed on administrative leave. The archdiocese issued a news release detailing the events, and Archbishop John R. Quinn (now retired) sent a Palm Sunday letter to be read at parishes where O’Shea had served. Quinn himself read the letter at O’Shea’s last parish when he encouraged other victims to come forward.

At the conclusion of their investigation, police charged O’Shea with felony child abuse. Currently his lawyers are seeking his release from jail where he’s held in lieu of $5 million bail. He is on inactive status as a priest and not allowed to resume ministry.

In the Gaylord, Mich., diocese, Bishop Patrick Cooney is defending Fr. Gerald Shirilla -- who was ousted from the Detroit archdiocese on molestation charges, and whom Cooney has made a Gaylord pastor.

The bishop told the Detroit Free Press earlier this month, “I believe Father Shirilla made some errors in judgment.”

The accusations have a strange history. It was Cooney who, in 1993, originally blew the whistle on Shirilla in Detroit. The Free Press stated that a parishioner on her sickbed allegedly alerted Cooney, then a Detroit auxiliary bishop, to the fact that Shirilla had molested the family’s three sons. Detroit archdiocesan officials found credible evidence of molestations, and in 1994 Shirilla was told -- according to the paper -- “there was no place for him in ministry within the church.”

Last August, Cooney named Shirilla pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Alpena, Mich. In the 1993 depositions, Shirilla admitted giving massages to boys in the church rectory bedroom while they were in their underwear. He said he had no “insight” into the fact that the conduct might be “inappropriate or harmful.”

The charges were dismissed due to statute of limitations.

In a criminal case in the Santa Rosa, Calif., diocese, a 38-year-old woman has alleged she was raped in 1977 when she was 14 by then-Fr. Donald Wren Kimball behind the altar at Resurrection Church. She claims that sexual encounters continued and when she became pregnant, Kimball arranged for an abortion. The diocese’s attorney confirmed to NCR that $120,000 has been paid to the woman for counseling for her and her family.

Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, March 29, 2002