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Priest Settles Molestation Suit

The Oakland clergyman agrees to pay $16 million to a man who says he was abused in 1979.

November 26, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A Roman Catholic priest has agreed to pay $16 million to settle a civil suit filed against him by a man who claims he was molested more than 20 years ago, the alleged victim's attorney said Tuesday.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland agreed to pay an additional $1 million plus $50,000 to provide counseling for Mark Bogdanowicz, said his lawyer, Larry Drivon.

The settlement, reached Monday, brings to an end a civil trial that began Nov. 10 and wasn't expected to conclude until mid-December.

Both Father Robert Freitas, 58, and the diocese were named as defendants in the civil suit.

Bogdanowicz, 38, of Lincoln, is a former U.S. Navy SEAL and Gulf War veteran who also has worked in the airline industry, Drivon said.

"He's pleased that both the diocese and the priest have acknowledged what was done to him," Drivon said.

Efforts to reach Freitas through the diocese and Alameda County Superior Court were unsuccessful. He represented himself at the civil trial.

The $17-million settlement could be the highest involving one victim and one perpetrator, said David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He said it was unusual for both a priest and his diocese to be held accountable in a sexual abuse case.

"This is quite an achievement," Clohessy said. "It's promising because it shows what can happen if a survivor manages to find the strength and courage to really push for justice. Fundamentally, it's about deterring future criminal behavior."

Bogdanowicz's attorneys said it was unclear whether Freitas had the money to pay the settlement.

The alleged abuse occurred several times in 1979 when Bogdanowicz was 15 and Freitas was serving at Santa Paula Catholic Church in Fremont. Freitas was arrested in April 2002 after a monthlong police investigation prompted by Bogdanowicz, who first told his mother about the abuse in September 2001.

In December 2002, Freitas pleaded guilty to one count of child molestation, Drivon said. He was sentenced to six months in prison and five years' probation.

But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law that permitted prosecution of child molesters within a year of reporting the abuse, no matter when the crime was committed. The ruling threw out hundreds of convictions for old molestations, including Freitas'.

The diocese's insurer will cover the $1-million settlement with Bogdanowicz, said diocese spokeswoman Sister Barbara Flannery.

"The diocese has always believed Mr. Bogdanowicz and will continue to support him through therapy," Flannery said. She said Freitas is "not working for the Diocese of Oakland and will not ever resume any kind of ministry in the church."

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