Jury Awards $30 Million to Brothers Molested by Priest
The Catholic Diocese of Stockton was ordered Thursday to pay $30 million to two brothers molested by a parish priest who had a history of abusing children.
A civil jury awarded $24 million in punitive damages and $6 million in compensatory damages to Joh and James Howard, who claimed that the diocese and its leadership knew about the Rev. Oliver Francis O’Grady’s actions and did nothing.
“This says to me that people out there understand. People grasped what level of impact this has taken on my family,” Joh Howard said. “I feel so relieved and so vindicated.”
The ruling comes less than a week after the Catholic Diocese of Dallas agreed to pay $23.4 million to nine former altar boys.
“We stand on the shoulders of what has happened before,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the Howards.
David Clohessy, head of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the award is the largest per plaintiff in a case involving a religious institution.
“It’s an incredibly powerful statement . . . [that] says the abuse of kids has to stop and that puts the blame squarely where it belongs, on the hierarchy of the church,” Clohessy said.
The civil trial began in June against O’Grady, who was convicted in 1994 of molesting Joh, now 19, and James, 23. He is serving a 14-year prison term.
O’Grady and his supervisor, the Rev. Cornelius DeGroot, signed two letters in 1976 apologizing to the parents of an 11-year-old girl after O’Grady allegedly touched her inappropriately, the Howards’ attorney, Laurence Drivon, said.
In a deposition, O’Grady testified that former Stockton Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle didn’t order him to seek counseling after the 1976 incident and seemed angry that he had apologized.
When police began their investigation in 1984, O’Grady was receiving counseling, church officials said. According to a police report, the diocese told authorities that O’Grady would be transferred and would only be working with adults.
In 1985, O’Grady was appointed pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in San Andreas. A year later, the diocese appointed him associate pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Turlock, where he reportedly met the Howards.