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Charges Against Ex-Priest Include 1977 Rape of Girl

March 28, 2000|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Santa Rosa Catholic priest has been charged with sexual crimes, including the rape of a 14-year-old girl in 1977 and the molestation of a 13-year-old girl four years later.

Don Kimball, a former youth minister, has been charged with four counts including rape and child abuse in connection with his contact with the two girls, who were both parishioners at the Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa where Kimball was assigned.

Sonoma County Dist. Atty. J. Michael Mullins said the charges filed Friday resulted from a four-month investigation that identified nine other alleged victims dating back more than 20 years. He has not ruled out the possibility of further charges against Kimball, 56.

"We may have even more victims," Mullins said. "This thing isn't over."

Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle a sexual misconduct lawsuit against Kimball filed by four former teenage parishioners whom the priest allegedly molested while they were under his supervision. The suit charged that high-ranking church officials were aware of the molestations but did not intervene.

The accusations against Kimball--who has denied any wrongdoing--were among a series of scandals that have rocked the Santa Rosa diocese in recent years.

Allegations of sexual misconduct, financial improprieties and payments of hush money to people who threatened lawsuits have led even longtime parishioners to challenge diocese administrators. In July, Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann resigned after he was sued by a diocese priest who said he was coerced by the bishop to have sex with him.

Ziemann, who has claimed that the affair was consensual, left the diocese reeling from $16 million in debts that church officials say resulted from bad investments.

Kimball is one of at least five priests who have left the diocese in the last decade after being accused of sexual misconduct involving children. One went to prison for molestation, another died and two others left the country.

If convicted, Kimball could be sentenced to 15 years in state prison, Mullins said. The prosecutor added that Kimball is expected to turn himself in to authorities this week.

In a statement Monday, the diocese expressed its "deep sorrow, sincere contrition and heartfelt concern to any and all victims of past sexual abuse by priests. The church has a moral imperative to do all it can to protect children and the vulnerable from the harm of abuse either by clergy or by laypeople working for the church."

The 14-year-old victim identified in the charges was raped by Kimball in the church, authorities charge. The woman, now 36 and the mother of nine children, testified in a deposition that she eventually became pregnant and that Kimball drove her for an abortion in San Francisco.

The 13-year-old victim, now 31, was molested after she sought counseling from Kimball, who served as the head of a youth ministry before leaving the diocese in 1990, according to the charges.

The lawyer who represented four alleged victims in the civil suit said she is "delighted" by the charges.

"The criminal system is finally doing what the civil system did for these victims--bring closure," said attorney MaryClare Lawrence. "But I'm concerned Kimball is still proclaiming his innocence. It means he's still posing risk to someone. A repentant pedophile is better than an unrepentant one."

In recent years, Kimball has remained active in a nonprofit religious organization he calls Cornerstone Media Inc. Lawrence and others say he has continued to have access to young people, a claim disputed by Kimball's attorneys.

Mullins said the possibility that Kimball now has access to children moved prosecutors to act as quickly as possible. "It's always a concern," said Mullins.

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