Sex Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Local Diocese - NBC 7 San Diego

Sex Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Local Diocese

Cathie Ray is one of three women who announced their civil lawsuit against the Diocese of San Diego.

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    Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against Local Diocese

    NBC 7's Alexis Rivas is in Southcrest with more information on the sex abuse lawsuit against a local diocese. (Published Friday, Oct. 18, 2019)

    Cathie Ray says she can still feel her priest's tongue in her ear, licking her neck, while she helped him organize his stamp collection at the rectory.

    "He would try to kiss me while rubbing his hands all over my body," recalls Ray.

    She was 9-years-old when she says he started molesting her – a ritual that would continue roughly twice a month for years.

    Her parents would drop her off at the rectory, at the priest's request, on Saturdays. Ray says the priest liked to pick her up and sit her on his lap, bouncing her against him until she could feel an erection.

    Even now, more than 50 years later, Ray struggles to maintain eye-contact when describing the nature of the abuse she says she endured at the hands of a priest. She says she still feels ashamed.

    Ray is one of three women who gathered alongside their attorney before a group of reporters Friday morning on the steps of St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown San Diego to announce their civil lawsuit against the Diocese of San Diego.

    All three claim the same priest, Monsignor Gregory Sheridan, sexually abused them in the early 60s.

    Last fall, the Diocese of San Diego named Msgr. Sheridan in a list of priests credibly accused of abusing children. Sheridan worked at St. Jude's parish from 1954 to 1970, and St. Peter's parish in Fallbrook from 1970 to 1983. He died in 1991.

    Their lawsuit is among the first of its kind.

    This past Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 into law.

    The bill gives all survivors of child sex abuse a three-year window - no matter their age – to sue their abusers or those that covered up their abuse.

    "It's historic," said their attorney, Joseph George. "The three-year window is huge."

    That window goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, and expires Dec. 31, 2022. After that, the bill also extended the statute of limitations. Child sex abuse survivors now have until their 40th birthday to seek justice through the legal system before now, the age cap was 26.

    "It has the ability to potentially help thousands of survivors of childhood sexual assault throughout the state of California," said Maricar Pascual, another attorney from George's office, also working on the suit.

    Ray, Judith Louise-Worachek, and Jane Doe allege, the Diocese of San Diego was negligent in supervising and keeping Msgr. Sheridan on staff, negligent in supervising them as minors and negligent in failing to report child sexual abuse, according to their complaint.

    "You were supposed to be men of God," said one of the alleged victims, who is only identifying herself as Jane Doe.

    That harsh message directed at the diocese was followed by messages in hopes of encouraging other potential victims of clergy sexual abuse to speak out.

    "You didn't do anything wrong," said Ray. "He did something wrong. It doesn't mean you don't love God. It doesn't mean you don't support your church. It means this priest was a bad apple."

    The attorneys and the women all believe they were not Sheridan's only victims.

    "He was a predator," said Ray. "He took advantage of the children, and I know there was more than us."

    "You don't have to suffer in silence anymore," said Louise-Worachek. "Please come forward. We're here for you."

    NBC 7 reached out to the Diocese of San Diego for a response to the announcement of the pending civil lawsuit.

    Kevin Eckery, vice-chancellor, and spokesman for the diocese sent NBC 7 the following the statement:

    "We haven't been served with Mr. George's lawsuit, so we can't comment on the specifics of the complaint, but we can confirm that Msgr. Sheridan is on the list of credibly accused priests published on the diocesan website. We would urge the persons who came forward today to contact law enforcement if they haven't already done so to report the abuse and to file a claim at no cost or obligation with the Independent Victim Compensation Program. They can file a claim without giving up their right to sue the diocese. They can decide at the end which process works for them."

    There is no crime or sin worse than a priest abusing the young people he is sworn to serve and protect. We pray that victims of sexual abuse receive the help they need to heal."