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March 9, 2005

First Northern California church abuse cases set for trial

Ailing Pope expected to give traditional Easter blessing

Rally planned to try to keep brain-damaged woman alive

Editor who oversaw off-color jokes about Pope quits


First Northern California church abuse cases set for trial

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Two cases alleging Church negligence regarding Catholic priests who sexually abused minors in the San Francisco Archdiocese and Oakland Diocese are set for trial this week, the first of about 150 civil suits filed by alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in Northern California since the statute of limitations was temporarily lifted in 2002.

As lawyers prepare to take the cases to trial, they are also continuing settlement negotiations with diocesan officials and their insurance companies.

“The bishop is hoping mediation works,” said Father Mark Wiesner, spokesman for the Oakland Diocese.

The case set for trial against the Oakland Diocese was filed by a 34-year-old former altar boy, who now lives in Arizona. The man claims he was abused by former priest Robert Ponciroli at St. Ignatius Church in Antioch. Ponciroli, 68, now lives in Florida. The second claimant in that same case is the man’s brother, according to Stephen McFeely, a lawyer for the diocese.

The case against the San Francisco diocese was filed by a man who alleges abuse by the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard while the man was a student at St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose. The man, now in his mid-40s, has said the abuse took place in 1972 and 1973.

Pritchard, who died of cancer in 1998 before the allegations became known, was the son of a former Santa Clara mayor. Pritchard was pastor at St. Martin from 1972 to 1979, before he was transferred to St. Nicholas Parish in Los Altos.

Trials for four additional claimants against Pritchard will follow.

Dozens of lawyers have been participating in settlement talks for the past three weeks. Everyone involved in the negotiations is prevented by law from talking about specifics.

“Trials are scheduled, we’re talking,” said Paul Gaspari, lawyer for the San Francisco Archdiocese. “It’s a very fluid situation.”

In December, alleged victims agreed to a record $100 million settlement with the Diocese of Orange, resolving 90 lawsuits that included allegations against 31 priests, 10 lay personnel, one religious brother and two nuns.

In 2002, the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85 million to 552 plaintiffs.

More than 850 alleged victims are suing dioceses throughout the state, with millions of dollars in potential settlements at stake. The scope is so vast that the lawsuits have been lumped geographically into three consolidated cases, known simply as Clergy I, Clergy II and Clergy III, which are the Northern California cases.

A 2002 state law temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits, opening the door for hundreds of claims. In July, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw, who is handling Clergy III, upheld the constitutionality of that law and allowed all but a handful of the Northern California cases to proceed.

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Ailing Pope expected to give
traditional Easter blessing

VATICAN CITY (RNS) -- Ailing Pope John Paul II will give his traditional Easter blessing to Rome and the world, the Vatican said Tuesday (March 8).

It left open the possibility that he also will preside over a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at the ancient Colosseum on Good Friday. This will be the first time in his more than 26 years as pontiff that the 84-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff, who is presently hospitalized, has not led Holy Week and Easter celebrations.

The Vatican said that six cardinals, including the American-born James Francis Stafford, will stand in for John Paul at Holy Week celebrations, starting with Palm Sunday on March 20 and culminating with Easter on March 27.

But following the Easter morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square, “the Holy Father will impart the ‘urbi et orbi’ blessing” to the city of Rome and the world, the Vatican said.

The schedule did not name a prelate to preside in the pope’s place over the 14 Stations of the Cross, recalling Christ’s trial, crucifixion and burial, at Rome’s Colosseum on the night of Good Friday. This could indicate that John Paul did not want to rule out his own presence.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Monday it was hoped that John Paul would be discharged by Holy Week from the Rome hospital where he is convalescing from surgery on his windpipe. He said the pope would decide how to participate in the ceremonies once he had returned to the Vatican.

On doctors’ advice, John Paul has not spoken in public since Feb. 24 when a tube was inserted into his trachea to ease severe breathing problems.

It was the second time in a month that he had been admitted to Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic hospital with a breathing crisis caused by influenza.
In past years, the pope has delivered an Easter Sunday message surveying the state of the world, given his blessing and offered Easter greetings in some 60 languages to a global television audience.

If John Paul is unable to speak, the Easter blessing could follow the pattern of the Sunday prayers of the last two weeks with an aide reading the pope’s message and greetings, and John Paul giving a silent blessing.

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Rally planned to try
to keep brain-damaged woman alive

A dozen organizations concerned about the livelihood of a brain-damaged woman plan to rally in Florida Sunday (March 13) on her behalf. The rally on the grounds of the state Capitol in Tallahassee will take place five days before a court order is set to go into effect that would remove the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo.

“This is both a life and death struggle for Terri Schiavo and a watershed fight for all disabled people,” said Gary Cass, executive director of the Center for Reclaiming America, an outreach of the Rev. D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“No just society can allow such cruel and inhumane treatment to take place—especially on such a flimsy and ill-founded legal foundation.”

Other organizations involved in the event include the Christian Law Association, Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, Focus on the
Family, Liberty Counsel and the National Right to Life Committee.

Rally organizers expect participants to hold some 1,000 long-stemmed roses bearing a note that reads “No food or water” before they are delivered the next day to Florida lawmakers. The note aims to symbolize the circumstance Schiavo will face if legislators don’t intervene.

In a separate but related development, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, welcomed the introduction of legislation on Capitol Hill that would clarify due process rights for incapacitated persons.

“The disabled deserve due process,” Perkins said in a statement about legislation introduced Tuesday (March 8). “In the United States we don’t execute people without due process, and we shouldn’t execute the incapacitated by starvation.”

Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., made a similar argument in a statement about his introduction of the House version of the Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act.

“When a court is making a life or death decision for a disabled person who has been charged with no crime, shouldn’t they be afforded independent counsel to speak on their behalf?” he asked.

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Editor who oversaw off-color jokes
about Pope quits

The editor of a New York newspaper that ran “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” quit his job Monday (March 7), according to Editor & Publisher.

Jeff Koyen told Gawker.com that he quit as editor of the New York Press rather than face an unpaid two-week suspension in which he was told to “think about what this paper should be.”

“The problem is, New York Press already is the paper it should be,” Koyen said in a statement posted on Gawker.com. “We are iconoclastic, occasionally obnoxious, but always intelligent.”

Last week the weekly paper was criticized by New York political and religious leaders for running the off-color jokes about Pope John Paul II’s declining health. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the piece by writer Matt Taibbi “the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in 30 years of public life.”

The newspaper’s publisher, Chris Rohland, told Editor & Publisher that Koyen was suspended for printing a different article, a parody of the New York Post, that had been nixed. Rohland said the act amounted to “insubordination.” The publisher said he did not want to give his competition at the New York Post any free publicity.

In his parting shots, Koyen said his bosses could not withstand the criticism generated by the pope article. He called his publisher a “spineless alt-weekly weenie” and said owner David Unger is “similarly spineless.”

The pope article, which included items such as “No. 46: Beetles eating pope’s dead brains,” was approved by Rohland prior to publication.


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Pope John Paul II watches a live television broadcast of the Angelus prayers, held in nearby St. Peter's square, from a room in Rome's Gemelli hospital, March 6, 2005. The 84-year-old Pope, who also suffers from Parkinson's disease and severe arthritis, is recovering from a tracheotomy operation which was performed to help ease breathing problems.

REUTERS/Osservatore Romano-Arturo

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