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3 Sisters Sue L.A. Archdiocese Over Their Alleged Molestation by Priest

They say the church conspired to conceal that cleric was a child molester. Archdiocese notes that allegations refer to 30 years ago.

September 05, 2003|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

With the deadline approaching to file lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles for older claims of child sexual abuse, three sisters Thursday alleged that they had been molested as children by a priest transferred to their parish after he had been accused of molesting another child.

Retired priest G. Neville Rucker lured two of the sisters into the rectory at St. Agatha Church in Los Angeles' West Adams district in the early 1970s with oatmeal cookies, then sexually abused them, according to the sisters' lawsuits. Rucker also is accused of sexual assaults on a school playground, in church and even in the girls' home, while their mother cooked dinner for the priest.

When their parents could no longer afford parochial school, Rucker picked up the tab for all three sisters, the suits allege. And the molestation continued until one of the sisters told her parents and their father confronted church officials, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuits.

The three suits filed Thursday accuse the archdiocese of negligence in its supervision of Rucker and conspiring to conceal from parishioners and law enforcement that Rucker was a child molester.

The women -- Riva Kennedy, 43, Jackie Dennis, 42, and Wendy Kennedy, 38 -- said Rucker had never approached them again.

Rucker, 82, was charged last year with 29 counts of molesting girls as far back as 1947 and was plucked off a cruise ship bound for Russia by authorities fearing that he would try to flee prosecution. Those charges were dropped in July after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down California's effort to prosecute molesters in decades-old cases.

"It's a horrible thing," said attorney Art Goldberg, who represents the women, at a news conference outside the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

Rucker, Goldberg said, "got off criminally. He will not get off civilly."

Wendy Kennedy said that no amount of money could pay "for all the abuse and suffering that we went through."

Jackie Dennis said there was "absolutely no justice" for her after the criminal charges against Rucker were dismissed. She said she had dealt with the abuse by believing that Rucker was dead. When she learned otherwise, it was "like opening some terrible stab wounds," she said. It affected her husband and children as well, she said.

Lawyers representing hundreds of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests had agreed to a temporary moratorium on filing new lawsuits as the parties tried to settle the claims. But they will begin filing hundreds of civil lawsuits as the Dec. 31 deadline approaches.

The California Legislature last year extended the statute of limitations on sexual molestation lawsuits in certain circumstances.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said policies had changed since then. "You can't change what happened in the past and certainly the policies that were followed 30 years ago are not the same policies that are followed today," he said.

Today, "there is no transfer of priests from place to place," Tamberg added. He declined to address the specific allegations, saying he was not in a position to know what had happened in church administration three decades ago. He noted that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony had not been archbishop at the time referred to in the allegations.

Rucker retired in 1987 and was removed from the ministry last year when he ran afoul of the archdiocese's new zero-tolerance policy for priests who molest minors.

His removal came 35 years after he was accused of molesting two 9-year-old girls at St. Anthony Parish in El Segundo during the late 1960s. Then-Bishop Timothy Manning persuaded the mother of one of the girls not to seek criminal charges.

After that, Rucker was transferred to St. Teresa Avila, then Holy Trinity Church and Holy Cross Church, and eventually St. Agatha Church in July 1970, when he met the Kennedy sisters.

Besides monetary damages, Goldberg is asking the court to establish an independent oversight board to review allegations of abuse by priests and other employees and a clergy abuse victims' awareness program.

"We have that," said attorney Donald Woods, who represents the archdiocese. He said the archdiocese established such a panel under the leadership of retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard Byrne.

Goldberg also criticized the archdiocese for not turning over internal documents to him. Goldberg said he was having trouble obtaining information about Rucker's prior assignments and earlier abuse reports.

"We want to know where he was and why they moved him and when was he sent to treatment," Goldberg said.

Woods said all parties, including Goldberg, had agreed to a procedure for reviewing the records sought by the plaintiffs. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman is in charge of that portion of the case.

Many of the same documents are also being sought by prosecutors in their ongoing criminal investigation of sexual abuse by priests.

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