Two brothers are suing the Diocese of Oakland on the ground that Fr. James Clark, who died in 1989, molested them 30 years ago. Grim reading.
[One alleged victim] said his molestation had occurred in the rectory of Corpus Christi Church in 1971, when he was 12 years old. It followed "an insidious grooming process" over several months, when Clark would admire the young boy's developing body, urging him to take off his shirt. "It began with him touching my chest and then went onto him fondling my penis," the man said. "I said, 'This scares me. This is wrong.'"
At that point, he said, Clark apologized and told him, 'If I ever do that again, I want you to punch me in the stomach."
The younger brother said he only realized his older sibling had also been molested after the older brother severed his left hand with a fishing knife in 1980. When Clark walked into his room at Washington Hospital in Fremont, he said, his injured brother "began to thrash around" in bed. "That's when it occurred to me that my brother had also been molested," he said. "When I asked him why he cut off his hand, he said, 'If thy hand offends thee, cut it off.'"
Doctors were able to reconnect the severed hand, but the older brother has suffered years of emotional trouble, the suit says.
God knows how the truth of the matter could be investigated in this case, and, barring the fortuitous appearance of diaries in which Clark admits the abuse, doubts will almost certainly surround the allegations.
Being emotionally damaged, the complainants will make poor witnesses on their own behalf. A skull or rib fracture is eloquent evidence of harm, but one of the bitterest ironies of child sexual abuse is that the psychological scars produced work to the perpetrator's advantage by weakening the reliability of his victim's testimony. Impartial jurors must always take account of the possibility that the charges are fabrications. That said, the circumstantial details related by these brothers do not seem prima facie to be those that swindlers would invent in order to scam the Diocese.
It's conceivable that a man demented enough to sever his own hand is demented enough to concoct a tale of imaginary abuse to the detriment of an innocent priest. But the idea that sexual abuse -- even of the relatively minor sort euphemistically labeled "inappropriate touching" or "misbehavior" or "boundary violations" -- could engender this kind of grotesque self-mutilation should, at minimum, teach good bishops that their responsibilities toward victims do not end with the expiry of the statute of limitations.
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