Three men allege that a Roman Catholic brother at an Orange County high school and church sexually molested them for years when they were youths, contending that he had told them that what he was doing was "an appropriate activity," according to lawsuits recently filed.
Brother Gregory Atherton of Friar Servants of Mary molested the youths at various times between about 1967 and 1986, according to the suits filed in Orange County Superior Court.
The lawsuits allege that molestations occurred at Servite High School in Anaheim, St. Philip Benizi Church in Fullerton, and during trips to Northern California and to other offices of the national religious order, also known as Servites.
Atherton was the registrar at Servite High School from 1958 to 1967 and then a music director at St. Philip Benizi parish from 1967 until 1988, according to the suits. The alleged abuse ranged from fondling to oral copulation, said Joseph Dunn, one of two lawyers for the men.
The president of Servite High School, Father Gerald Horan, called the allegations regrettable and unfortunate but declined further comment. Officials at St. Philip Benizi declined comment Wednesday.
The lawsuits allege that Atherton tried to silence the boys by telling them that "the sexual contact he was engaging in was an appropriate activity." He said this "to induce the plaintiff not to report the sexual conduct," and the boys did not report it to any authorities, the suits said.
Thus began a period of "psychological distress, shame, guilt, self-blame, depression, repression," that lasted until about three years ago, the suits contend.
The men, now ages 24 to 37, said it was only in the past few years, while undergoing therapy for other problems, that they recalled the alleged incidents, said Dunn and lawyer Jeffrey L. Anderson of St. Paul, Minn.
The three men--Michael Moyneur of Mission Viejo, Michael Tietge of Los Angeles and Timothy Ender of Fallbrook--did not know each other as children but met through mutual friends in the past few years and then contacted an attorney about filing suit, said Dunn.
Portland, Ore., lawyer Bob McMenamin, who represents the religious order, said Moyneur made the allegations against Atherton to the head of the Servite order in Buena Park in 1990. Following normal procedure in such cases--but without establishing guilt--Servite officials transferred the brother to a New Mexico facility, where he underwent about five months of counseling, McMenamin said.
Atherton was then transferred to Portland, where he continues to undergo counseling while he works in the business office of the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother.
A brother is a trained member of the religious order who takes vows of chastity and poverty but cannot perform any duties of a priest, such as giving mass or performing baptisms.
The three lawsuits, which were filed together about two months ago, seek unspecified damages under a California statute that allows adults to pursue civil claims within three years after they remember their abuse, said Anderson.