The new allegations suggest yet deeper levels of duplicity in the long-running horror show that continues to rock the Catholic church all the way to Rome, as well as shock its millions of followers.
Earlier this summer, an NBC Bay Area team’s investigation unveiled dozens of new court filings that reveal child sex abuse allegations against Catholic priests and institutions in various parts of Northern California. The findings suggest that what the public previously knew about the scandal may only be the tip of a giant iceberg.
Every Northern California diocese from Fresno to Santa Rosa has been named in the new batch of clergy abuse suits that number plaintiffs in the hundreds. The new filings also allege rank cover-ups that the church employed for decades to protect accused predators and silence victim survivors.
The NBC Bay Area team reviewed roughly 140 new legal filings and poured through interviews with more than 12 plaintiffs, attorneys, and others. The team found more than 40 Northern California priests or church workers face child sexual abuse charges for the first time. They note that many more cases are also likely to be filed soon, while California’s new law which gave the abused a grace period to file a claim is still in play for plaintiffs.
Those new names are not seen on suspected abuser lists released by Northern California Catholic dioceses in recent years, except by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The names are also absent from Bishop Accountability, a site famous for tracking abusive clergy members.
Four Bay Area priests who still work and still have access to children are among the newly accused. Those priests still work in San Francisco and Santa Rosa. Those dioceses have said the men still work for them because their internal reviews haven’t supported the allegations.
Meanwhile, many other priests who previously stood accused or were even criminally charged in past lawsuits also face fresh allegations in the new avalanche of filings. Those priests include some of the most notorious abusers in California.
Other new allegations include several sex abuse charges against clergy and staff at schools for Bay Area children. Those schools include the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma and St. Vincent’s School for Boys in Marin County.
Church Sex Trafficking
One lawsuit alleges boys attending St. Vincent’s were sex trafficked in the early 1980s at a remote Sonoma County CYO summer camp. A plaintiff in that suit states in his lawsuit complaint that elders gave him alcohol and then forced him to engage in sex acts with several priests and other boys.
Former Bay Area resident Mark Staley alleges in a recent suit that a now dead Oakland priest, Michael McGinty, physically and sexually abused him when he was eight or nine. His suit is believed to be the first to allege that Father McGinty was an abuser.
“This is really just part of the healing process,” said Mr. Staley. “This is not about any kind of financial gain.”
2019 Law change Opened Floodgates
Mr. Staley’s lawsuit is one of more than 700 filed by Californians against Catholic dioceses across the state using a 2019 law. That law opened a three-year “lookback window” that allowed survivor victims to file civil suits based on older child sex abuse claims which had previously been barred by the state’s statute of limitations.
That law worked well for Mr. Staley. A former altar boy, he said he had repressed the trauma of his abuse until recent therapy brought it to the surface. He said he now remembers being ordered to the angry McGinty’s office for laughing during a mass.
He said he recalled passing out with McGinty’s hands on his throat, and “[W]hen I woke, I was looking down and I could see the top of his head.”
Mr. Staley’s attorney said he wasn’t surprised by the list of dozens of new abusers: “There are so many priests that have been accused that are not on the [church’s] list of credibly accused priests, and that’s not surprising to me,” Lucas said. “Routinely there’s been a pattern and practice and long history of the Catholic Church not only sweeping these accusations under the rug but engaging in corrupt cover-ups time and time again.”
Dec. 22, 2022 Deadline for Clergy Abuse Claims
More than 200 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the church so far in Northern California. According to attorneys handling these cases, hundreds more are ready to file new claims by the time the window closes on Dec. 31, 2022.
On the defense side, bishops and their attorneys have pushed back as hard as they could against the lookback window law. They have argued that it’s unconstitutional, that it could financially devastate Catholic dioceses, which have already paid huge settlement sums during a similar window two decades ago. The church failed in state courts to overturn the law, so Catholic bishops petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2022 to review the case; however, the nation’s highest court declined to hear the case.