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Priest Who Once Led Boys Choir Accused of Molestation : Litigation: Father Richard T. Coughlin is target of suit alleging sexual misconduct. Diocese of Orange and chorus officials quietly settled two similar cases in October, 1994.

March 09, 1995|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — For a third time, the Catholic priest who directed the All-American Boys Chorus is the target of a suit by a former chorus member who alleges he was sexually molested.

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The suit names Father Richard T. Coughlin, who was the chorus director and an associate priest at St. Martin's and St. Anthony's churches.

Eric Zapala, 33, charged in an amended complaint filed Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court that he was molested from 1972 to 1974, but that he repressed the memory until recently.

Coughlin, 70, who headed and directed the Costa Mesa-based chorus until 1993, was named in two similar suits in state and federal court. After allegations surfaced that Coughlin had molested at least five youths over a period of 10 to 30 years, he was suspended from his priestly duties by the Diocese of Orange.

Also named in the suit this week were the chorus; the Diocese of Los Angeles, which had jurisdiction over Orange County at the time of the alleged molestations; the Diocese of Orange; Msgr. John Urell, chancellor of the Diocese of Orange; the Boys Choir School of Orange County; the Order of Norbertine Fathers; and St. Anthony Claret Catholic School.

No specific money damages were listed in the litigation.

In October, 1994, the Diocese of Orange and the chorus quietly settled the two similar cases, in which the terms of the settlement were confidential.

Msgr. Lawrence J. Baird, a spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, said that a copy of the latest suit has not been received, and that neither the diocese nor Urell would have any comment. Baird said that Coughlin's status had not changed.

A spokesman for the All-American Boys Chorus said he had not seen the suit and had no comment on the allegations.

Mark Roseman, the attorney who represented plaintiffs in both earlier suits and now represents Zapala, declined to comment on the case beyond the allegations outlined in the suit.

None of those involved in the case knew of Coughlin's present whereabouts.

The suit alleges that Zapala, when he was between the ages of 11 and 12, was sexually abused by Coughlin while a member of the chorus, an experience that "shattered the natural human trust inherent in a child's relationship with a priest," resulting in "continued and deep-seated psychological injuries."

Zapala repressed his memory of the molestation, according to the suit, until December, 1993, when he was contacted by another man who had made the same allegations.

The suit alleges that church officials in Los Angeles were informed no later than 1974 that the priest had molested at least one other member of the chorus. The suit also repeats a charge made in the earlier litigation, that since at least 1988 or earlier, church officials in Orange County were informed by the Diocese of Boston that similar allegations had been made against the priest.

The priest drew Zapala into sexual activity by taking him on private trips to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland and the La Brea Tar Pits, according to the suit.

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