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Late Sacramento priest newly accused of child sex abuse as Catholic Church lawsuits pile up

Sacramento Bee 11/30/2022 Maggie Angst, The Sacramento Bee

A late clergyman who served the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento for four decades has been accused for the first time of sexually assaulting a child, joining dozens of Sacramento clergy previously implicated in the Catholic Church’s decades-old abuse scandal.

In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court, a 60-year-old woman from Placerville — identified only as Jane Doe E.D. — alleges that Sidney P. Hall sexually abused her on multiple occasions in 1966 when she was just six years old.

At that time, Hall was serving as a priest at the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral where he was tasked with running the youth group, working with the parish school children and driving the school bus, according to records kept by the church.

The lawsuit states that Hall, who died in Sept. 2016 at the age of 85, used his “influence and persuasion as a holy man and authority figure” to groom the girl and develop a strong rapport with her family prior to abusing her.

The suit against Hall is part of a wave of litigation driven by a 2019 state law that opened a three-year window during which people could file claims of sexual abuse against people and institutions, regardless of when the alleged incident occurred and how old the accuser was. The period for filing such claims, which typically would be outside the statute of limitations, ends on Dec. 31.

More than 1,000 suits involving the Catholic Church have been filed under the provision over the past three years, according to Mike Reck, an attorney with the Jeff Anderson and Associates law firm, which is handling some of the cases. With the deadline rapidly approaching, that number is continuing to climb.

“We are seeing a large influx of survivors statewide coming forward,” Reck said. “To those survivors who have been suffering in silence for decades, this is an ability to safely, effectively and confidentially say, in many cases for the first time, ‘this happened, this was wrong and this was not my fault.’”

California Catholic priests named in sex abuse cases

Anderson and Associates this week released the names of 66 Northern California Catholic clergy members accused of child sexual abuse. The 116 lawsuits were filed in Alameda County Superior Court, chosen to take all the cases in Northern California. Eleven of the individuals identified in the lawsuits had served in the Diocese of Sacramento.

Hall was among 14 Northern California priests who had never before been publicly named for alleged abuse.

Diocesan records state that Hall spent most of his life ministering to members of the Latino community. After his first assignment at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, where the alleged abuse occurred, Hall spent five years preaching in Mexico before returning to the Sacramento area. From 1971 to the date he stepped down in 2002, Hall spent time serving at Saint Peter Parish in Sacramento and Saint Patrick Parish in Placerville.

Inundated by sexual abuse investigations, the Catholic Church in recent years has instituted reforms such as a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse of children and a revision to church law recognizing that adults, too, can be victims of assault when priests abuse their power. Many dioceses have also recently opened up about the history of abuse among their priests and parishes.

In 2019, following an order by Bishop Jaime Soto, the Diocese of Sacramento released a list of 44 priests and two permanent deacons who were credibly accused of sexually abusing roughly 130 victims dating back to the 1950s. Hall’s name is not on the list.

In an email Wednesday, spokesperson Bryan Visitacion said the Diocese of Sacramento is seeking information about Hall’s case and “will respond through the procedures of the consolidated court proceeding.”

“We take all allegations of clergy sexual abuse seriously and thoroughly investigate each one,” Visitacion wrote. “Where appropriate, we will add new information to the list of accused clergy.”

Although the Sacramento Diocese has offered a detailed list, some advocates argue that it’s still missing dozens of names like Hall’s.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) last year called on the Diocese to expand its list by adding dozens of additional clergymen, including those who may have served in Sacramento but had accusations made against them elsewhere and those credibly accused of abusing adults.

A formal judgment in the case against Hall has not been decided and the allegations remain unsubstantiated. But Melanie Sakoda, a survivor support coordinator for SNAP, said bringing the allegations to light is an important first step.

“The first report is the hardest one,” Sakoda said. “It could be that there are others who are afraid to be the first to come forward, but once others do, they may feel comfortable enough to say ‘me too.”

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Visit sacbee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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