The Cathedral of Christ the Light and Catholic Diocese of Oakland in Oakland on July 28, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)
A Catholic priest in Rodeo remains the active head of a church and parochial school while he faces accusations of molesting a child parishioner decades ago, KQED has learned.
A lawsuit filed in Alameda County in September alleges ongoing abuse in the mid-1980s, including that the priest secluded the unnamed plaintiff in an office and groped his genitals underneath his clothing when he was a parishioner at St. Raymond Catholic Church in Dublin. The plaintiff was around 6 and 7 years old at the time.
The priest is not named in the lawsuit. But documents filed in federal bankruptcy court and records from a special proceeding in state court reveal who the priest is: Father Larry Young.
Young was parochial vicar at St. Raymond’s from September 1984 to June 1987, according to the Oakland diocese.
He is the current pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Rodeo.
Reached by phone on July 24, Young initially declined to comment. After he and his attorneys were presented with information identifying him as the unnamed defendant, Young sent an Aug. 8 emailed statement calling the accusation against him “absolutely false.”
“It is a defamation of my name and character for something I did not — and would not — do to any child of God,” Young said in his statement.
The allegation in the lawsuit is not proven.
The lawsuit against Young is among over a thousand claims filed in Northern California courts on behalf of survivors of alleged childhood sexual abuse by clergy under a recent California law.
Attorneys defending the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland and two accused clergy who remain in active ministry — Young and another East Bay priest — have been fighting for several months to keep their identities sealed in court and out of public view.
They argue that the diocese’s internal investigation found the allegations are without merit and that the priests’ identities have been uncovered in violation of the law.
“This matter has not been deemed credible,” Oakland diocese spokesperson Helen Osman wrote in an email to KQED.
A former assistant U.S. attorney hired by the diocese found the allegations were not credible, Osman said. The diocese declined to identify the former prosecutor or provide documentation of their findings.
The bankruptcy proceedings effectively froze all the state court cases filed against the Oakland diocese, its facilities and its clergy. Advocates say the diocese is using the bankruptcy process to delay the lawsuits, and that the lack of transparency undermines the diocese’s public stance of compassion for survivors of abuse.
“This is absolutely abhorrent and irresponsible,” said Rick Simons, one of the lead attorneys managing victims’ cases against clergy in Northern California.
“The reason that the bishop and his lawyers want to keep names of alleged perpetrators confidential is they know that once the name gets out in the public, other potential victims will come forward,” Simons said. “It’s like the #MeToo movement.”
The Oakland diocese sought Chapter 11 protection in federal bankruptcy court in May as it faced more than 330 claims filed by the survivors of alleged child sexual abuse under a 2019 state law, the California Child Victims Act, or Assembly Bill 218.
The law waived all time limits for those claims from 2020 through the end of last year, and it permanently extended age limits to sue for childhood molestation — from age 26 to 40 years old, or within five years after the discovery of the abuse.
The Oakland diocese was the second California diocese to file for bankruptcy this year in the wake of lawsuits brought under AB 218. The Diocese of Santa Rosa sought Chapter 11 protection in March. The Archdiocese of San Francisco announced Friday it will “very likely” follow suit.
Attorneys representing survivors of alleged molestation are “alarmed that two priests accused of sexual abuse remain currently employed by the [diocese],” according to a recent filing in federal court. “An immediate investigation is necessary with respect to the Accused Employees because they (i) remain in contact with children, and (ii) are continuing to collect a salary and benefits from assets of the [diocese’s] estate.”
A bankruptcy judge granted the diocese’s request last month to keep the names of the two current employees under seal in federal court.
Attorneys have also sought to keep the priests’ names out of state court filings — and the press.
“Referencing him in a story now is improper and would severely and recklessly harm Father Young and his reputation,” Young’s attorney, Dan Webb, wrote in a June 27 email to KQED.
Webb, along with the diocese, argue that naming Young violates rules of civil proceedings created by the California Child Victims Act.
“These very issues are in litigation now,” Webb wrote.
The law prohibits accused abusers sued as defendants from being named in lawsuits until supporting evidence is presented. It does not apply to the press.
Father George Mockel, another active East Bay priest, has also been accused of sexually abusing a child in a civil case brought under AB 218.
In a lawsuit filed in December, a plaintiff alleges they were sexually abused by a priest in the mid-1970s. A filing in the case directly identifies Father George Mockel as the alleged perpetrator, as NBC Bay Area reported.
Mockel is the pastor of Santa Maria Church in Orinda.
“I have never abused anyone in any way at any time. That is not who I am,” Mockel said. “I have never been involved in any disciplinary action, criminal case, or civil matter and have never been accused of assault or any such wrongdoing in my lifetime. I am deeply saddened and distressed by this maligning of my name and reputation.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys in both cases either did not respond to a request for comment or declined to comment.
“This effort to leave them in ministry is an effort to intimidate other victims from coming forward,” said Dan McNevin, Oakland leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“People are afraid of powerful priests. Larry Young is a very powerful man within the diocese,” he said.
Ordained in 1981, Young served at several parishes in the East Bay, including in San Leandro, Fremont and Richmond, according to church records, before becoming pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Rodeo over 20 years ago.
Mockel was previously the vicar general of the diocese, a role that directly supports the bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Both priests were listed among diocesan consultors in the 2021 Official Catholic Directory, meaning they are advisors to the bishop.
A 2019 memo (PDF) includes Mockel and Young among members of the diocese’s Priests Personnel Board.
“I know them both, I know them fairly well,” said Tim Stier, a former priest with the Oakland diocese who was an associate pastor at St. Raymond in the early 1990s.
“I like Larry. I’ve always found him somewhat peculiar and eccentric, but he’s always been nice to me. But then, priests are always nice to fellow priests, generally,” he said.
Stier has been an outspoken critic of the Oakland diocese’s handling of sexual abuse by its priests. Last year, the Vatican officially removed him from the priesthood.
“When a priest is accused, he’s supposed to be suspended by the bishop while an investigation takes place,” Stier said, referring to the Oakland diocese’s process for responding to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.
The procedures also require the diocese to report any allegations that a priest is sexually abusing a child to law enforcement and the priest’s parish.
The diocese has not reported the allegation against Young to law enforcement. He has not been suspended and parishioners of St. Patrick Catholic Church have not been notified.
That’s because the diocese’s policies don’t apply to historical allegations brought through a lawsuit, according to spokesperson Helen Osman.
“The Diocese was not aware of the alleged abuse when it allegedly occurred,” Osman said in an email. “We have no records of being contacted. The Diocese also sought to speak with the plaintiff about the allegations after the filing of the complaint and the plaintiff refused.”
Young is also not included in the Oakland diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy released in 2019, because, Osman said, he has not been credibly accused.
“The Bishop has expressed his support for me and has stated I deserve to maintain my good name,” Young said, adding that he has been advised not to speak about the case beyond his emailed statement.
“I appreciate your understanding, but especially your prayers, not just for me but for everyone involved,” he said.
How the priests’ identities were revealed
In a June 21 conference call in the bankruptcy case, a representative of the Oakland diocese said that two priests recently accused of child abuse in the East Bay remain in active ministry, without naming them.
The diocese initially requested that the names of all accused priests and anyone involved in a cover-up of abuse, along with the survivors of alleged abuse, be kept under seal or redacted from the bankruptcy proceedings. The diocese had argued its employees are entitled to protection from identity theft and harassment.
More on the Oakland Diocese
Lawyers representing the survivors among other “unsecured creditors” in the case, opposed the request. The request for confidentiality was later narrowed to just the two priests in active ministry.
“The public should be aware. What we’re doing should not be done behind closed doors,” Jeff Prol, an attorney for the survivors and other creditors in the bankruptcy case, said in an interview with KQED on July 7.
“The public interest requires that the priests’ names be disclosed,” he said. “They’re potentially a danger to society.”
Bankruptcy Judge William J. Lafferty granted the diocese’s request last month, sealing the names of the two active priests in the bankruptcy case.
But cross-referencing filings by the diocese in bankruptcy court and documents filed in state court reveal the identities of the priests and the accusations against them.
A routine filing in bankruptcy court in early July disclosed that two active priests with the Oakland diocese hired an attorney to address potential violations of California privacy law. That document referenced two Alameda County Superior Court case numbers.
The case numbers relate to two lawsuits filed in state court alleging sexual abuse by priests. Mockel is identified as the alleged perpetrator in one of those cases, but Young is not named.
However, a statement filed monthly in state court includes a chart with information from over 1,500 lawsuits filed in the three-year window created by the California Child Victims Act. The chart displays case numbers, attorney names, time periods of the alleged abuse and the names of the alleged perpetrator in hundreds of the cases.
Young and Mockel are listed as alleged perpetrators in the chart, buried among the names of hundreds of other accused clergy. Searching by the two case numbers the diocese identified in bankruptcy court, however, highlights Mockel and Young as the two recently accused priests who remain actively leading parishioners.
Pushing for secrecy
Oakland diocese spokesperson Osman said attorneys for survivors “ignored the law” when they named Young in the chart.
“California law requires that certain criteria be met before an alleged childhood sexual abuser can be publicly named as a defendant in a lawsuit,” Osman wrote. “Those criteria have not been met in this case.”
But Simons, the plaintiffs’ attorney manager in the special proceeding, said lawyers are required by court order to provide information from their cases for use in the chart.
Attorneys representing the priests have pushed to keep Young and Mockel’s names confidential in state court filings as well.
Dan Webb, the attorney representing the two priests, asked an Alameda County Superior Court clerk in late June to seal the chart, blocking public access, while he prepared a motion requesting the priests’ names be removed.
The court responded that no action would be taken based on Webb’s emailed request, but that the priests could file a motion to seal.
To date, no motion has been filed.
“I think it really defeats justice when these cases are not publicized and we have no visibility into the process that caused a priest to remain in ministry,” said McNevin of SNAP.
“[Young] should be suspended. His parish should be informed. All of the parishes where he worked should be informed, and survivors should be invited to come forward from all of those places. That would be the compassionate response to an accusation like this,” he said.
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