San Diego

‘Release Yourself': Woman Claiming Abuse by San Diego Priest Urges Others to File Reports

The Priest was named last November by the Catholic Diocese of San Diego among a list of more than 50 abusive priests in San Diego and San Bernardino of whom the diocese said it had received a credible allegation involving sexual abuse of a minor

A San Diego woman who says she was abused by a clergy member as a girl is urging other local sexual abuse victims to file reports with the state so religious leaders may be held accountable.

Cynthia Ann Doe is speaking out for the first time about what she says Monsignor Gregory Sheridan did to her when she was five years old and a parishoner at St. Jude's Shrine of the West in the 60s.

Sheridan was named last November by the Catholic Diocese of San Diego among a list of more than 50 abusive priests in San Diego and San Bernardino of whom the diocese said it had received a credible allegation involving sexual abuse of a minor.

During a press conference outside the church's doors, Doe did not publicly detail the priest's acts but urged other victims to come forward so that Sheridan and the Diocese of San Diego could be investigated by the California Attorney General's office.

"Release yourself from the burden of the anger and the shame of what happened to you as an innocent child, it is not your fault and it is not too late," Doe said. 

She said the trauma from that time period in her life sent her into therapy for the last nearly 40 years. 

"What you are left with, unknowingly, is that you are worthless, dirty, a bad person -- so bad that even God must not love you because your priest hurt you and made you feel nasty," she said.

Last November, California AG Xavier Becerra asked victims of clerical sex abuse to submit complaints to his office and, last week, Becerra furthered the investigation by sending letters to 12 state dioceses informing them cases in their jurisdiction were under review. 

The letters ask diocese to voluntarily preserve documents relating to abuse allegations involving clergy, staffers and volunteers that were received from 1996 to the present. The attorney general's office will look into whether the archdiocese properly reported the allegations under California law.

George -- a Sacramento attorney who has filed more than 100 reports of abuse involving clergy in Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Fresno, San Diego and Monterrey -- said Friday he was stunned that the Catholic Diocese of San Diego was not one of them.

That's why he and his client stood outside St. Jude's Friday to urge locals who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse by the church to submit claims to the state. They hope more complaints will prompt the AG's office to take action in San Diego.

"That's why I'm here; I can't be the only person. I know I'm not the only person," Doe said. 

Sheridan died in 1991 after serving for about 30 years in the county, at St. Jude, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Ramona and St. Peter’s in Fallbrook. 

Doe and her attorney, Dr. Joseph George, have submitted claims to the Catholic Diocese of San Diego and the state but have otherwise not filed a lawsuit against the priest or the diocese. They do accuse the diocese of not acting on Doe's tip. 

NBC 7 has reached out to the Catholic Diocese of San Diego for comment on the allegations against the priest and their handling of the allegations but has not yet heard back. 

In November, the diocese issued a statement to NBC 7 stating: 

"The Diocese publishes a list of all priests credibly accused of abusing minors prominently on its website.

All accusations of priest misconduct are taken seriously. The allegations are reviewed by an Independent Review Board, a lay committee that includes persons with judicial, law enforcement and legal experience, as well as a marriage and family therapist and a victim of sex abuse. If the Review Board concludes that an allegation is credible, than the priest is permanently forbidden from functioning as a priest at the diocese or anywhere in the world.

The diocese is a mandatory reporter. All accusations are reported to civil authorities and victims are encouraged to report any incident to law enforcement.

To the best of our knowledge, there have been no new incidents involving priests and minors since the diocese implemented major reforms in 2003.

These reforms include fingerprinting and background checks for all priests and church personnel who interact with children, training for students and staff in Catholic schools and religious education, and zero tolerance for any priest credibly accused of abusing a child.

If anyone believes the published list is incomplete, they may contact the Diocese at (858)490-8353."

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