The Diocese of Stockton announced Wednesday that it has reached a $1.75 million negotiated settlement with attorneys for a man who was a victim of sexual abuse by notorious pedophile priest Oliver O’Grady in the 1980s. The abuse occurred in Stockton, but Sacred Heart Parish in Turlock also was named as a defendant, leading to the filing of the lawsuit in Stanislaus County.
O’Grady was a priest at Lodi's St. Anne's Catholic Church from 1971 to 1978.
The diocese will pay $875,000 of the settlement amount. The remaining portion will be paid through insurance proceeds. Under the agreement, the case — the only O’Grady lawsuit filed in Stanislaus County — will be dismissed.
“It is our hope that this settlement will help the victim continue to find healing for the suffering he endured,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire said in a news release. “We have tried to find resolutions to these cases that will provide some measure of solace for victims. We continue to follow strict measures to ensure that we are protecting the young and the vulnerable.”
An attorney for the victim was critical of the diocese’s news release. “The diocese press release is a cheap PR stunt that’s suitable for a company that engaged in securities fraud but not a church that did what it did,” said John Manly of the Irvine law firm Manly & Stewart. He added that his firm and his client had not intended to publicize the settlement.
The lawsuit contended that Sacred Heart Parish should have known O’Grady was a pedophile, one who later admitted sexually assaulting more than 23 children of both sexes and sleeping with two mothers to get access to their children. It stated that if O’Grady had been removed from the priesthood in Turlock instead of shuffled from parish to parish, the victim never would have been molested years later as an altar boy at Stockton’s Church of the Presentation.
The victim in the case is a 40- or 41-year-old man “who was 11 or 12” when the abuse occurred. He has two younger siblings — a sister and brother — who filed similar lawsuits in 2005 and 2008; those were settled in 2011 for a combined $2 million in damages. The newly settled lawsuit was filed in 2009.
In September, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Timothy Salter heard arguments on whether the statute of limitations was in play in the case. Vince Finaldi, an attorney for the victim, said at the time that in general, a victim must file childhood abuse charges before he or she turns 26. But exceptions in his client’s case, he argued: O’Grady threatened his victim that if he didn’t keep silent, he was doomed to hell and would have his sexual actions publicized.
“When Salter ruled that the statute of limitations could be potentially overcome by allegations that the plaintiff feared for personal safety and that he feared for certain religious consequences, such as allegedly being told that he’d go to hell,” the case changed for the diocese, said its attorney, Thomas Beatty, on Wednesday.
“We strenuously fought against” Finaldi’s argument, Beatty said, “but this particular judge in Stanislaus disagreed, and you really can’t appeal those determinations.”
The diocese also is concerned about being fair to victims, Beatty said, “and it appears in this case that the alleged victim was indeed a victim.” He added that there was awareness by the diocese that if the case went to trial, O’Grady’s “difficult and sordid past would bias people.”
Manly, the victim’s attorney, said the diocese is trying to portray itself as generous in agreeing to settle the lawsuit. “But they went to the state Supreme Court twice and the court of appeals twice, filing I don’t know how many motions to have the case dismissed,” he said Wednesday. “The really foolish part is that we offered to settle three years ago for $1 million, but they wanted to litigate.
“They’re responsible for Oliver O’Grady, they made him, and he ruined dozens and dozens of lives in that valley. I don’t understand the saccharine press release in this case. It’s sickening, but that’s typical of this diocese.”
O’Grady is a native of Ireland and was ordained there as a priest before he joined the Stockton Diocese in 1971 at age 25. His first posting was at St. Anne’s in Lodi; five years later, he admitted molesting an 11-year-old girl and wrote a letter of apology to her parents.
The family said it didn’t press criminal charges because the late Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle promised that O’Grady would be sent to a monastery. Instead, he was sent to Sacred Heart in 1978 and to Church of the Presentation in 1982.
Other reported abuse and parish assignments followed until O’Grady was arrested in 1993 and booked at the Calaveras County Jail on 23 counts of child sexual abuse. He pleaded guilty to four counts in return for a 14-year sentence.
In 2000, after serving seven years, he was deported to Ireland. First, though, he voluntarily became defrocked in exchange for a diocese-provided annuity that would give him monthly payments when he turned 65. Those payments began in June 2010.