SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Catholic leadership tolerated a priest's repeated sexual abuse of boys and at least one girl in parishes and schools across the state, a former student claims in court.
The plaintiff in a Superior Court lawsuit, identified only as a 25-year-old male, says Father Don Flickinger sexually abused him when he was about 10 years old.
He claims Flickinger was allowed to work with children for nearly 50 years, beginning in 1964 when he was a chaplain at San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno. Throughout his career, Flickinger was transferred 20 times, from Fresno to Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco, to parishes in Napa, Monterey, San Jose and Oakland. He is currently assigned to the New Bethany Residence in Los Banos, a residential living facility where he is supposedly retired, but was seen assisting in performing mass in last August, according to the 55-page lawsuit.
Along with Flickinger, defendants include the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, the Bishop of San Jose, the Bishop of Fresno, the Diocese of Fresno Education Corporation, St. Frances Cabrini Church and St. Frances Cabrini School..
"Defendants have greatly increased the danger to children by continuing to transfer perpetrators such as Fr. Flickinger, after allegations of abuse arise, from one diocese to another into unsuspecting parishes and communities such as St. Paul in San Francisco or New Bethany in Los Banos," the complaint states.
Flickinger allegedly began abusing boys at San Joaquin in 1964, shortly after his ordination. "Among other things, Flickinger regularly and openly inappropriately touched boys, removed select boys from classes for private meetings in his office, asked them sexual questions, and often attempted to give his misconduct the false appearance of appropriateness," the lawsuit states. "For instance, one of his ploys was to attempt to cloak his sexual questions in purported penitential communications by inducing boys to agree to let him hear their confessions outside the confessional."
It continues: "In another such ploy he sometimes inflicted pain on the boys he touched inappropriately by grabbing them with enough force to cause pain, thus allowing Flickinger to sexually gratify himself but make it appear as if he was somehow acting masculine or touch rather than as a sexual predator. Flickinger engaged in such conduct at, among other places, SJMHS and a summer camp at Bass Lake, and continued his predatory behavior throughout his career as a priest. Flickinger's conduct at SJMHS was so frequent and well known that the boys at SJMHS openly discussed the fact that Flickinger was attracted to boys, warned each other to watch out for him, and gave Flickinger nicknames such as 'Fr. Fuckinger' and 'Fr. Faggot.'"
The plaintiff says Flickinger sought him out because of his young age, convinced his parents that he needed private counseling, and examined his genitals "to 'make sure everything works.'" He says he has experienced recurring psychological damage from Flickinger's conduct, especially after learning that the Diocese of San Jose was protecting Flickinger from prosecution.
The lawsuit details Flickinger's allegedly predatory actions toward other students, including how he grabbed one boy's upper thigh, touched boy volunteers at the Fresno diocese's Camp Santa Teresita, invited them to visit his home at night and asked them questions about masturbation and whether they were sexually active with girls.
"Despite years of open and obvious inappropriate conduct by Flickinger, the SJMHS faculty and staff - all agents of the Fresno defendants - continued to allow the priest to enter freshmen classrooms, among others, and hand-pick boys ... to take to his office, claiming they need 'counseling' or 'spiritual guidance,'" the complaint says.
The plaintiff claims Flickinger was very discriminating in his choices, selecting only the most attractive or vulnerable boys to order into this office.
In 1972, one witness was called into the dean of students' office at Santa Clara University, according to the complaint. Flickinger was there, along with a Fresno County Sheriff's lieutenant. They allegedly demanded that the boy sign a document stating that Flickinger "had never made any homosexual advances towards (the witness) in Flickinger's office at SJMHS," threatening him with expulsion if he refused.
In the early 1990s, Flickinger was transferred to the Sacred Heart Parish in Saratoga, where he was given free rein to "openly and inappropriately touch children on the grounds of the school or parish, including in the church itself," the plaintiff claims.
He says Flickinger groomed and then sexually abused at least one young girl there. In other instances, the lawsuit says, the priest would "hold a child in his lap, restraining the child from leaving while pulling her against his leg and onto his erection."
For decades, Catholic leadership bounced Flickinger from one parish to another, each time permitting him to work closely with young boys and concealing his alleged crimes.
"Time and again defendants have had the opportunity to end the cycle of abuse by reporting perpetrators such as Flickinger to law enforcement, by assisting rather than obstructing criminal investigations such as those of Fr. Flickinger, and by warning the general public when a priest has been accused of sexually assaulting a child," the plaintiff claims.
According to the lawsuit, at least 36 priests from the Archdiocese of San Francisco have been accused of sexually abusing children, forcing the archdiocese to pay "close to $70 million to settle over 100 claims for sexual abuse by its priests" since 2003. The lawsuit also cites at least 10 priests in the Diocese of Fresno who have been accused of child sex abuse.
The plaintiff demands punitive damages and an injunction for negligence, fraud, breach of duty, childhood sexual abuse and sexual battery, among other claims. He is represented by David Nye with Nye, Peabody, Stirling, Hale & Miller in Santa Barbara.