Survivor of priest sex abuse speaks out as new CA law leads to many lawsuits

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Survivor of priest abuse speaks out as new law leads to lawsuits
A survivor of Camp St. Michael speaks to I-Team's Dan Noyes as California law now allows victims to sue priests for sex abuse, even decades later.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- New lawsuits are flooding into the Catholic Church, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a California state law that allows victims to sue, even decades after clergy sexual abuse.

The I-Team's Dan Noyes spent years investigating these cases, exposing how church officials allowed known abusers to move from parish to parish. The church is facing new lawsuits because of the actions of priests we first uncovered in the 1990s.

Over the years, we've heard stories of abuse at the Catholic Church's "Camp St. Michael" in Mendocino County from more than two dozen victims. Now, a new plaintiff is coming forward telling the I-Team, "Every morning, we were supposed to do polar bears, which is all the boys stripped down to nothing and jump in the river naked."

He doesn't want to show his face or use his name, but he is the latest to sue the church over abuse he says he suffered at the hands of Father Gary Timmons in 1978.

"He first, you know, put his hand down my shirt, and started massaging my chest. And from there, it just continued and escalated."

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He says the abuse had an immediate and lasting impact; made it difficult for him to trust, to have a committed relationship.

"The first time I got blackout drunk, I was in sixth grade, which was the year after the molestation happened."

Now, his lawsuit is among hundreds streaming into the Catholic Church after a California state law opened a three-year window for victims to sue, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. San Francisco's archbishop and every bishop in Northern California tried to challenge that law, but last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected them.

Spencer Lucas represents several hundred survivors of clergy sexual abuse, whose cases can now move forward. "The decision from the U.S. Supreme Court was incredibly important, not only for my clients, but for all of the survivors across the state of California. And this rejection gives them some semblance of hope that they can finally get their day in court and seek justice for a lifetime of misery that they've endured at the hands of these predator priests," he said.

Dan Noyes questioned Father Timmons in 1995, "What do you say to all those young men now?"

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Police arrested Timmons after our investigation in 1995; he received an 8-year prison sentence for child molestation and the Catholic Church paid out settlements then, but Lucas has several new lawsuits naming Timmons and another priest the I-Team investigated, Father Austin Peter Keegan.

FATHER KEEGAN in 1994: "I have never had sex with them, okay?"

DAN NOYES: "Have you ever had any physical contact with them?"

FATHER KEEGAN: "The same physical contact I'll have with you, okay? (taps Dan's elbows) Something like that. No."

But, we talked to his victims and documented how the Catholic Church heard complaints about Keegan, and still moved him from parish to parish in the Bay Area, eventually to this orphanage in Mexico.

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"You actually found Keegan down in Mexico," attorney Maja Ramsey told Dan Noyes in 1995. "We had been trying to find out for a year-and-a-half where he was. The Church wouldn't tell us where he was, and to find him affiliated with an orphanage obviously was pretty appalling."

The church spent millions settling those cases in the 90s and now faces more lawsuits because of Keegan, Timmons and other priests.

DAN NOYES: "What do you hope to get out of this personally? Do you think this is going to make you feel better?"

PLAINTIFF: "I don't know what will change, but at least I will have done something. I will have stood up for myself and said that, you know, this guy really f****d me up and you guys did nothing about it. You know, it's just, it's not right. And I'm sure that there's a lot of other guys that are worse off than me."

Father Keegan died last year at the age of 85. The I-Team emailed Father Timmons for comment and left a message on his personal cell phone, but he has not responded. Church officials declined to comment on these pending lawsuits except to say they remain committed to helping survivors heal, including through financial support.

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