Northern California church abuse cases set for trial
By Kim Curtis
Associated Press Writer
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
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.
Pope expected to give
traditional Easter blessing
By Peggy Polk
Religion News Service
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
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
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
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
Rally planned to try
to keep brain-damaged woman alive
By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
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.
who oversaw off-color jokes
about Pope quits
By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
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
The pope article, which included items such as “No. 46: Beetles
eating pope’s dead brains,” was approved by Rohland prior
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.