Child Support Suit Names Former Priest

Times Staff Writer

A suit seeking retroactive child support from a former Catholic priest was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

In a tearful courthouse appearance, Christa Hobbs, now 18, and her mother, Linda Hobbs, 37, told of years of living in roach-infested buildings in high crime areas before the father was located in 1984 and, after a court case, subsequently did pay support--for 11 months--until the girl's 18th birthday.

The suit identifies the father as former priest John Christenson, who was "teacher, priest and therapist" for Linda Hobbs when she was a student at a Los Angeles area Catholic girls' high school.

Could Be Landmark Case

In what attorney Gloria Allred said could be a landmark case if it succeeds, the suit is asking Christenson to pay unspecified back support for the first 17 years of Christa Hobbs' life--"from the day she was born to the day the court ordered child support."

"There are only two states, Missouri and Washington, in which the issue of retroactive child support has been decided, favorably in both cases," Allred said.

The attorney said there is no published appellate case in California in which the issue has been tried before.

Allred said the case also is precedent-setting in asking for compensatory and punitive damages "from the day he admitted (paternity) forward."

Attorney Gerald Tarlow, who represented Christenson in the 1984 court matter, said his client has met all his legal obligations. He declined to comment on the pending case until he has seen the suit and declined to reveal any information about his client

According to the suit, a relationship developed between student and priest and Linda Hobbs became pregnant by him when she was 18, after she had graduated from the unnamed school.

At the courthouse Wednesday, Linda Hobbs, a bank secretary, said Christenson talked her out of obtaining an abortion, saying that it was against his beliefs, and told her to go to a home for unwed mothers and, after giving birth, to place the child up for adoption.

The suit says that Christenson visited the mother once, when the child was 6 months old, and said he would "not pay her one cent of child support" because she had refused to give her daughter up for adoption.

Christenson subsequently left his teaching position and "disappeared." He was not located again until Christa was 16, she said.

The suit alleges that Christenson left the priesthood and began working outside the church and is believed to be earning in excess of $50,000 a year. Allred said he apparently has married and is teaching in the Los Angeles area.

Met Once at 16

"We met on one occasion, when I was 16, and it wasn't much of a meeting," Christa Hobbs said Wednesday. "His wife did most of the talking."

The young woman, who is a student at California State University, Sacramento, said child support during those years of growing up "would have meant a totally different life style for me."

"I grew up in a low-income, black neighborhood. I don't always look black (the father is white), so I grew up in the middle."

Of the legal action filed against her father, she said, "My 18-year nightmare is over."

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