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Priest’s Libel Suit Is Dismissed

Times Staff Writer

A judge on Wednesday dismissed a libel suit filed by a Roman Catholic priest against a victims’ rights group that supported the woman who had accused him of molesting her.

In February, Msgr. Joseph F. Alzugaray, a former Los Angeles priest, sued the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests as well as his accuser and her lawyer. Alzugaray alleged they defamed him in leaflets that SNAP members distributed outside churches and on web- sites.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jon M. Mayeda threw out the case against SNAP after finding “there is insufficient evidence to refute the truthfulness of the defendant’s statements.”

“The statements of defendant SNAP were in connection with a judicial proceeding, and the information was disseminated in a public forum on a public issue pursuant to defendant SNAP’s 1st Amendment rights,” Mayeda ruled.

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Mary Grant, the Southern California regional director of SNAP, said in a prepared statement that the judge’s ruling vindicated the Chicago-based support group.

“We urge victims of abuse to not be deterred or intimidated by church leaders’ harsh legal maneuvers and public relations stunts that are designed to keep victims of abuse trapped in their trauma and keep vulnerable people at risk of abuse in the church,” Grant said.

She said SNAP is “more resolved and stronger than ever.”

SNAP’s lawyers, Mark Goldowitz and Fredric D. Woocher, argued in court papers that Alzugaray’s lawsuit sought to penalize the organization “merely for exercising its constitutional rights to inform the public that Plaintiff Alzugaray had been accused of child molestation in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County.”

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In that suit, Alzugaray, now pastor of St. Apollinaris Church in Napa, is accused of molesting the girl from 1967 to 1972 while she was attending Immaculate Conception School in Monrovia. Her name is being withheld because The Times generally does not publish the names of victims of sexual abuse.

Alzugaray denied the allegations and, according to his lawsuit, had been cleared by his diocese. His lawyer, Neil Papiano, said in court papers that “no other person in [Alzugaray’s] career in ministry has ever accused him of any such act.”

In his suit, Alzugaray said the allegations had exposed him “to hatred, humiliation, contempt, ridicule and obloquy.” He said he had “suffered damage to his occupation and career advancement, severe loss of his personal and professional reputation, severe mental anguish and ... public scorn.”

Alzugaray is one of more than a dozen priests publicly accused of molesting children who remain in active ministry in California, according to SNAP.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony included Alzugaray’s name in the list of 211 accused priests that he made public earlier this year in his report on the child sex-abuse scandal in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.


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