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Ex-Suspect in Molest Case Sues Priest : Justice: Former youth minister whose sex trials ended in hung juries says private remarks to an Episcopal priest shouldn't have been taped.

December 20, 1990|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former youth minister whose three trials for molesting a teen-age boy ended in hung juries has sued an Episcopal priest who tape-recorded a confession allegedly concerning the sexual allegations.

David Rickard, 40, former youth pastor at St. Jude's Church in Burbank, claims in the lawsuit that the church's rector, Father Michael T. Flynn, violated Rickard's privacy and the confidentiality of confession.

The suit asks that the tape be turned over to Rickard, of Sierra Madre, or taken by the court. Also named in the suit, filed Nov. 28 in Burbank Superior Court, are St. Jude's and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

On Dec. 6, Judge Thomas J. Murphy sealed the court record and ordered all those involved in the case not to talk about it.

Confession is a church rite under which a person admits wrongdoing to a priest for the purpose of forgiveness. Such conversations are protected under California law, as are conversations between doctors and patients or attorneys and clients.

Rickard has denied engaging in a sexual relationship but admitted feelings of attraction for the youth. He said Flynn urged him to confess, then misconstrued his words.

Flynn, 50, rector at St. Jude's for nine years, declined to comment. Canon Bruce MacPherson, a spokesman for the diocese, said that he was unfamiliar with details of the case but that tape-recording a confession does not violate church policy.

Rickard was tried in 1989 in Redding and in 1989 and 1990 in Pasadena Superior Court on 120 charges of oral copulation with a 15-year-old boy who was in Rickard's Bible study class.

The youth, now 20 and married, spent time with Rickard in Sierra Madre and later, with his parents' permission, moved with Rickard to Northern California in 1985.

The parents learned of the alleged sexual relationship in 1987 and notified authorities. Charges were dismissed this year in both places after the third jury deadlocked in Pasadena in August.

Flynn wrote Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert de Carteret on Nov. 20 about the tape, saying it "was probably not admissible in a court of law, but it will be held secure for other use should Mr. Rickard's future behavior require its utilization."

De Carteret at first said Rickard may have waived his right to confidentiality by filing the suit. But he said later that the gag order prevents further action by prosecutors.

Bill Rodiger, vice chancellor of the diocese and an attorney, said the diocese and the bishop will probably have little role in the lawsuit because Episcopal churches are independently run. Each church elects its own clergy, Rodiger said.

Rodiger said the lawsuit could center on the legal difference between a "confession" and a "conversation." A similar case about 10 years ago in Northern California made such a distinction, he said. A woman convicted of stealing church money sued her priest, who had reported the theft because he interpreted her admission to him as a conversation. She lost.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Rickard has said previously that he spent more than $90,000 defending himself.

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