(Contra Costa Times) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland is once again defending itself against sexual abuse allegations, this time involving two women who say they were abused by a youth minister at a Martinez church. The women say they were abused from 2002 to 2004, when they were in high school, by a volunteer youth minister. The women, whose names are being withheld because they say they are victims of sexual assault, are also suing a 33-year-old volunteer youth minister who they say abused them, said their attorney Rick Simons. The civil lawsuits were filed in the past two weeks in Alameda County Superior Court.
The youth minister, who was married with a child at the time, worked at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Martinez. He was removed from his position as soon as the church learned of the allegations. The Contra Costa County district attorney’s office investigated the cases but did not pursue criminal charges, according to Simons.
In 2005, the Oakland Diocese settled lawsuits with 56 victims of sex abuse for a total of $56 million. Simons represented about half of the plaintiffs. “The diocese, which has implemented various programs to prevent sexual abuse and has done some work educating its people, obviously has a little more work to do,” Simons said. He added that there is evidence members of St. Catherine’s may have been aware of the activity and could have stopped it if they were properly trained to look for signs.
The Rev. Mark Weisner, Oakland Diocese spokesman, said the diocese has worked to strengthen its screening and safety procedures throughout the years. In 2002, the Safe Environment for Children program was put in place and everyone, volunteer or paid, who works for the Oakland church is fingerprinted and given a background check, Weisner said. “For us it’s disheartening that this sort of behavior apparently continues to take place in the diocese,” Weisner said. “And we’ll be looking at any way to improve those (current) programs.
We continue to be committed to making all of our churches and schools safe, not only for children but for everyone.” The Oakland Diocese, which encompasses churches in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is tied to about a third of Northern California sexual abuse cases, involving 24 priests. Northern California dioceses have been involved in more than 150 sex abuse lawsuits. Weisner said he believes training programs will be re-evaluated as a result of the newest lawsuits.
“It’s obvious that we have more work to do,” he said, though he added that this sort of behavior is not limited to the church. “It seems to be a part of humanity’s makeup, so I’m not sure you can rid of that completely, but we will do everything we can to do so.”