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  Home :: 2007 January :: Forty years later, former altar boys settle lawsuit against Diocese
January 7, 2007 

Forty years later, former altar boys settle lawsuit against Diocese

Kim Allyn had waited more than 40 years for that September day.

"I just thought, 'OK, this is the moment,' " says the muscled,6-foot-5 deputy sheriff of the day last year when he and fiveco-defendants sat around a long table and signed documents settlingtheir lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Monterey.

The suit alleged the diocese had known Irish-born Father PatrickMcHugh, who was assigned to St. John's Catholic Church from 1963 to1979, was a serial pedophile and that he had been transferred from theCentral Valley to the quiet town of Felton where he could basically beforgotten.

Only, the men charged, Father McHugh, who died in 1979, did things there they will never forget.

The men, all former altar boys now in their late 40s and early 50s,say the priest fondled them as they studied Latin, as they lay sick intheir bedroom and when they spent the night at the rectory so theycould serve Mass early the next day.

The attacks, they said, scared and shamed them.

The lawsuit wended its way through the court system and was tossedout by a judge, but was later appealed. In the end, the church and themen settled the lawsuit for a total of $1.5 million and the promise oflifetime counseling — one of three clergy abuse cases that have beensettled by the Diocese of Monterey so far.

Two of the six men say they are glad the case is over, that it brought a certain closure for them.

A diocese spokesman said he wished the men "the very best"

"I always wanted accountability," says Allyn, who became anunofficial spokesman for the men and an investigator in the case,"because it was so horrible what he did to me"

End of innocence

Allyn was a skinny, eager-to-please kid of 11 or 12 when the short,bespectacled McHugh began molesting him, he says. The priest wouldthrow coins on the ground and challenge him and other altar boys topick them up without bending their legs. Then, McHugh would press hisbody behind them, telling the boys it was to make sure their legsstayed straight.

Sometimes the priest, says the now-54-year-old Allyn, would call himinto a counseling room and fondle him under the guise of checking hislegs.

Jerry Crow, now a local landscaper, remembered similar incidents,including the time McHugh fondled him as he lay sick in his bedroomwhile his parents sat in the next room.

He was 11 or 12, he says.

He never told them about it.

Allyn did tell his father about the fondlings but his dad didn't want to believe him, he says.

It was an era when people didn't acknowledge those things and, likemost of the church's 250 parishioners, Allyn's father regarded McHughas a respected priest who had helped raise enough money to build anaddition to the wooden church off Highway 9 in Felton.

Not only that, but Allyn's father owned the bakery in town "andafter noon Mass was the biggest time for us," Allyn says. "It kept usin business. My dad didn't want to believe me. No one talked about whatwas going on"

The attacks destroyed Allyn's relationship with his father, he says.

"And I had always, in my mind, wanted to hold the church accountable for that," he says.

Window opens

In June 2002, three of the men told their stories to the Santa CruzSentinel but said they did not plan to sue. The statute of limitationshad closed on the alleged crimes.

But in January 2003, with reports of abuse surfacing across thecountry, that changed. A new law opened a one-year window for victimsof sexual abuse to file lawsuits. But plaintiffs had to prove that thechurch either knew, or had reason to know, of the abuse and did nothingto stop it, according to Jean Starcevich of San Jose, a lawyer for twoof the men

In February 2003, four of the men filed suit asking for $10 millionin damages. By the end of that year, the plaintiffs included Allyn,Crow, William Collins, Dennis Sinnott and two John Does.

A few months later, the Diocese of Monterey reported that since 1967there had been 17 clerics accused of sexual misconduct with a child.Out of the 17 claims, the diocese said, four weren't credible and inthe other cases, the cleric was either dead, out of the ministry or theevents were so long ago it "could not determine the merits of the claim"

It also had adopted something called the Charter for the Protectionof Children and Young People, which set up an independent review board;a code of moral conduct for clergy, lay workers and volunteers; asystem of criminal background checks; reporting regulations andeducation programs.

The letters

The men's case hung on letters McHugh had written to his bishopwhile he was working in the Central Valley. In the letters, McHughcomplained of being lonely and having a "roaming mind," Starcevich says.

"You tell me to trust a little more in gods...then yousuggest a TV so that my mind may roam," a 1955 letter from McHugh readellipses are McHugh's. "...Up here we throw guys in the clink or inStockton with roaming minds. What a remedy for a poor so-and-so tryingto stay decent, to work for God and pay bills...and keep alive"

The attorneys argued the mention of being thrown in the "clink" wasevidence of something worse than being an alcoholic or having an affairwith an adult.

The lawyers also contacted an 84-year-old retired priest who was amember of a religious order called Servants of the Paraclete. TheParacletes treated troubled priests, including a time from the mid- tolate-50s when they treated priests accused of sexual misconduct,including pedophilia, court documents said. Sometimes the Servants ofthe Paraclete were asked by bishops to travel to parishes as ananonymous troubleshooter — often not knowing what they were being sentto investigate.

In 1958, the retired Paraclete said, he was sent to McHugh's parishat St. Mary's Catholic Church in Taft, at the request of the bishopalthough he did not know why. He stayed for about a month before McHughordered him to leave.

Paperwork detailing the assignment was never found, says Starcevich,who introduced testimony that the Servants of the Paraclete had beenordered to destroy reports for legal reasons in the late '80s.

Church officials denied intentionally destroying documents.

'Tenuous' evidence

The diocese said it handed over the files it had for McHugh, whodied of a heart attack at the age of 65, and argued the plaintiffs hadnot shown evidence of McHugh's prior sexual misconduct, nor that thechurch knew of the abuse in Felton.

"...A reasonable reading of the evidence indicated the Diocese didnot know, nor should it have known, anything about the priest inquestion," says Kevin Drabinski, a spokesman for the Monterey Diocese.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw dismissed themen's lawsuit in October 2004. He said the evidence "was just tootenuous for him," according to Starcevich.

After the men appealed, both sides met for talks and agreed on the $1.5 million settlement.

Of the nine sexual abuse cases that the Monterey Diocese eventuallyfaced, three have been settled and two are pending. The diocese wasdismissed as a defendant from four other cases that involved otherdioceses in the state.

Nationally, the clergy abuse scandal has cost the Catholic Churchmore than $1.5 billion in settlements, legal fees and related costs,according to a 2006 report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Late last week, the Spokane Catholic Diocese in Washington agreed topay $48 million to those molested by priests, while last month theArchdiocese of Portland, Ore., said it would pay $75 million insettlements, according to The Associated Press The largest settlementin the abuse scandal was paid by the Orange County Diocese, which gave$100 million to 87 claimants in 2005.

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of thoseAbused by Priests, estimates there may be 1,000 cases pendingnationwide. The majority of cases, he says, are settled by the churchand do not go to trial.

"One of the interests of the diocese is being able to draw to aconclusion as many cases as possible and we were pleased in thisinstance that all the parties were able to come to a mutuallyacceptable agreement," says Drabinski of the settlement.

The sexual abuse scandals, which began in 2002, are still being feltby the church, he says. "The only proper response for the CatholicChurch," Drabinski said, "is to make sure this never happens again tochildren in our care"


Allyn, sipping a green tea in a downtown coffee shop, says the molests changed him from being a happy kid to a damaged one.

"Subconsciously, I was full of inadequacy, shame, of being dirty,"he says, even though, as boys, they joked about it among themselvessometimes.

The feelings rippled through his life.

He became a deputy sheriff: "No one stood up for me, and I knew I could stand up for the victims," he says.

He became a world-class bodybuilder for the approval it brought: "Itwas another tool to fight the inner feelings, the inadequacies," saysAllyn.

It was only when he sat down with a counselor, who pointed a fingerat him and asked if he had ever been molested, that the truth came out,he says.

"I shut it down so far, I didn't think it had affected me," he says.

But it had.

Allyn is now undergoing regular counseling — a step which he believes saved him.

"I'm rebuilding myself," he says.

Crow says he had "pretty low self-esteem for a while, but I waslucky to have so many friends" He went to counseling for a short timeand is still "a little bitter" about the church not taking fullresponsibility for McHugh.

Still, he says, "I think we won the case because it settled"

Crow and Allyn bought new cars, helped family members, madedonations and paid bills with their settlements. But, both men say, itwas never about the money.

"It was such a huge thing to happen to you," Allyn says, "What dollar amount do you put on that?"

Contact Peggy Townsend at


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia