Former priest, diocese settle abuse suit


Article Last Updated: Tuesday, November 25, 2003 – 10:20:07 AM PST

Former priest, diocese settle abuse suit

By Robert Airoldi, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — A former Fremont priest who pleaded guilty to one charge of child molestation in December — in a case that was later dismissed after a Supreme Court ruling — agreed Monday to pay $16 million to the victim, according to the victim’s attorney.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland agreed to pay $1 million, added attorney R. Lewis Van Blois, who represents victim Mark Bogdanowicz.

Former priest Robert Freitas, 58, and the diocese were defendants in a civil suit that began Nov. 10. The trial was expected to last until Dec. 18.

Van Blois said his client was relieved after an almost two-year legal battle.

“It’s been extremely difficult for himself and his family,” Van Blois said. “He’s been very courageous through-out the ordeal.”

Van Blois said he doesn’t realistically expect Bogdanowicz will get $16 million from Freitas but that his client would be paid some portion of the settlement, probably over time. The lawyer said he expects his client will get the entire $1 million from the settlement with the diocese.

Officials with the diocese were unavailable for comment.

Freitas pleaded guilty in December to charges he molested Bogdanowicz while the priest was serving at Santa Paula Catholic Church in Fremont in 1979.

Freitas was sentenced in January to six months in county jail and five years’ probation. In June, however, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s law that allowed prosecution of child molesters within a year after the abuse is reported to police, no matter how long after the crime the report was made.

The court said it was unconstitutional to apply the law retroactively to prosecute child molesters for crimes committed more than six years before the 1994 law went into effect.

The court’s ruling affected cases in which a child molester was prosecuted for crimes committed before 1988. That included both Freitas’ case and a case against another former Santa Paula priest, Robert Kiesle.

The allegations against Freitas, who was arrested April 8, 2002, surfaced when the victim moved back to his parents’ home in September 2001 and told his mother what had happened more than 20 years before.

The mother convinced her son to call police, whose month-long investigation revealed Freitas may have molested two others in the early 1980s, according to court records.

After those incidents, Freitas was sent to a counseling center for priests. He eventually was sent to St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish in Oakland for a short time, but he asked to be moved because he felt uncomfortable being so close to the schoolchildren next door, according to court records.

Before his arrest, Freitas was working at the AIDS Project in Oakland and celebrating Mass at the Sisters of the Holy Family motherhouse in Fremont.

Van Blois said his client hopes the result will help others.

“Freitas validated the fact Mark was molested and accepted a large judgment,” Van Blois said.

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