SANTA ROSA — Roman Catholics in the coastal area of Northern California are reeling from allegations of sexual misconduct with young men by longtime priests.
Gary Edward Timmons, a lean, ascetic-looking 55-year-old priest, faces charges that he had sex with boys aged 7 to 17 while serving at various parishes. The Sonoma County district attorney's office is prosecuting Timmons on 13 counts of oral copulation and lewd and lascivious conduct involving four boys.
He allegedly molested the 7-year-old in his priest's quarters at St. Eugene's rectory in Santa Rosa and had other young men sleep with him overnight.
In 27 years in the priesthood, Timmons has been pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Rohnert Park near here and St. Bernard's in Eureka. He also served at St. Eugene's, now the cathedral seat of the Santa Rosa diocese, and as director of Camp St. Michael near Leggett in Mendocino County.
Timmons, who asserts his innocence, is also a co-defendant with the Catholic Church in a civil suit filed in San Francisco by a group of men who claim Timmons molested them at Camp St. Michael and other locations.
The scandal involving Timmons, who is out of jail on $250,000 bail pending trial, followed similar accusations against San Francisco Msgr. Patrick O'Shea and the Rev. Austin Peter Keegan. The San Francisco archdiocese in August settled with two plaintiffs against O'Shea for $500,000. Keegan fled to Mexico and is reportedly no longer a practicing cleric.
On Nov. 11 another North Coast priest, the Rev. John K. Rogers, a noted religious scholar, committed suicide in a forest near Louveigne, Belgium. Rogers, a former campus minister at Humboldt State University, had been ordered back to the United States to face accusations of molesting a 15-year-old boy.
In a suicide note, Rogers declared his innocence but said "the pain and embarrassment are too much for me to handle."
Two of the plaintiffs in the civil suit against Timmons, Doug Sauvageau, 40, a Roseville computer analyst, and Don Hoard, 33, a partner in a Santa Rosa CPA firm, say the church needs to learn how to deal with the reality of child abuse and take steps to correct situations when they occur.
"The problem is the church puts priests on such huge pedestals and they're only men," Sauvageau said.
He and Hoard say the church knew things weren't right with Timmons and looked the other way.
"The archdiocese knew years ago about Timmons and nothing happened," said Sauvageau, who has accused Timmons of molesting him at camp on three different occasions in 1968-69.
"The church has no clue on how to deal with pedophiles in their ministry," Sauvageau added. "They're in huge denial."
A permanent change in church policy is what both men want to see out of the civil suit. "We want parishioners to understand we're not false accusers in search of money," says Hoard, who accused Timmons of molesting him twice at camp in 1974-75.
Sauvageau and Hoard want the Catholic Church to be mandated to report complaints of child molestation to police authorities, as are other institutions serving the public.
San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn, in a written statement, said that the church has had a formal policy on sexual abuse since September, 1992. "Where serious misconduct is established, lay employees will be discharged and priests, deacons and religious will be removed from the active ministry," Quinn wrote.
The accusations against Timmons surfaced in early 1994 when a Santa Rosa newspaper published accounts of two men who said they were molested by the priest. The reports prompted other men to go public with their accusations and resulted in the filing of the civil suit in May, 1994.
After the news reports, Timmons was relieved of his duties as pastor at St. Bernard's in Eureka. He was sent last September to the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago, where he was arrested on the criminal complaint Halloween night. Timmons waived extradition and was transported back to California on a prisoners bus.
He is now living with his family in the Sacramento area after family friends on Nov. 20 posted a property bond against the $250,000 bail.
In fighting the accusations, Timmons is holding what may turn out to be a legal trump card. Eleven of the felony counts go back well beyond the statute of limitations, some as far back as 1971.
A new California law essentially exempts child molestation cases from the six-year limit, but Timmons' defense attorney, Ted Cassman, contends it won't hold up in court.
"Every appellate court decision has held that once the statute of limitations has expired it can't be rehabilitated," Cassman said.
Rather than enter a plea, Timmons has filed a demurrer, saying the charges came too late and are unconstitutional since, said Cassman, "you cannot retroactively punish people." He is scheduled to argue the demurrer Friday.