Noe Valley Voice September 2011

Former St. Paul’s Priest Accused of Child Abuse

By Corrie M. Anders


For nearly two years, Father Don Flickinger, a veteran Catholic priest, served at St. Paul’s Church, where he occasionally said mass and carried out other clerical duties.

Then last March, the 75-year-old priest left the parish at the request of the San Francisco Archdiocese.

Now, five months after his departure from Noe Valley, Flickinger has been accused in a civil lawsuit of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy a decade ago in San Jose.

Matthew Frazer, a former altar boy, filed the suit Aug. 9 in San Francisco Superior Court. Listed as co-defendants were the Archbishop of San Francisco and four Catholic institutions in San Jose and Fresno, where Flickinger previously served. St. Paul’s Parish was not named as a defendant.

The 47-page lawsuit maintains that the church hierarchy covered up Flickinger’s alleged predatory behavior with minors, and quietly transferred him to unsuspecting parishes around the state. It also claims that the church’s failure to notify the St. Paul community put at risk students who attended the parish’s K-8 school next door to the church.

Several members of a victims’ support group announced the suit’s filing during an Aug. 10 press event in front of St. Paul’s, located at 221 Valley St. at Church Street.

“It was an opportunity to bring to public notice, particularly to the parents of St. Paul’s, this history and this lawsuit,” said Tim Lennon, San Francisco leader of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Flickinger Now in Fresno

George Wesolek, a spokesman for the San Francisco Archdiocese, said Flick­inger has retired and “it’s my understanding he is a resident at a nursing rest home” in Fresno.

“He was asked by us to leave [St. Paul’s] when a new allegation came in March of this year,” Wesolek said. “That’s when he went back to Fresno.”

Wesolek said the March accusation did not involve St. Paul’s church or school, but emanated from San Jose. He did not elaborate.

Jim Myers, a deacon at St. Paul’s, said parishioners were not aware of Flick­inger’s alleged background, and were “disappointed” to learn of the civil suit claims.

“He’s a nice man,” Myers said. “I think a lot of people are saddened about it. I haven’t heard any anger about it.”

In the lawsuit, various church entities were accused of fraud, conspiracy, and negligence. The suit said Flickinger’s behavior included inappropriately touching boys, engaging them in conversations about masturbation and other sexually themed topics, and forcefully grabbing or hugging minors.

According to the lawsuit, Flickinger’s illicit conduct has been well known to church leaders for at least 40 years. He was ordained in 1964.

The complaint said leaders in San Jose put some limits on his ministry in 2005, then later placed “severely restricted” limits on the cleric and transferred him “to a Northern California retreat house where children were not allowed, and [where he] was only permitted to serve mass to the nuns in residence.”

The lawsuit said church leaders, however, “offered no warning to the public, made no reports to law enforcement, and their restrictions on Flickinger’s ministry came far too late to prevent his abuse of boys such as plaintiff.”

Frazer, now 23, was an eighth-grade student at St. Frances Cabrini School in San Jose when the alleged abuse occurred in 2001. Following a lunch to discuss school enrollment opportunities, the lawsuit said, Flickinger took the boy to his bedroom, where he was sexually abused.

Frazer eventually reported the allegation to the San Jose Police Department, which set up a telephone sting. However, the lawsuit said, San Jose church leaders learned of the police investigation and warned Flickinger, who “sounded calm and unsurprised…and denied all” during the phone call.

San Jose church leaders gave Flickinger a temporary assignment to the retreat house, then in 2009 provided him with a residence at St. Paul’s—“a parish with an elementary school with children the same age that plaintiff was during the period of abuse.”

No Reports of Abuse at St. Paul’s

Both Lennon and San Diego attorney Tim Hale, who filed the lawsuit on Frazer’s behalf, said they were not aware of any reports of sexual abuse during the time Flickinger was living at St. Paul’s. But they said Archdiocese leaders should have informed the Noe Valley community at large about his alleged history.

“Just his proximity to the school” merited a warning, Hale said.

St. Paul’s deacon Myers said Flickinger had nothing to do with the school. “He never visited the school or the preschool,” said Myers. “He never did anything with the kids.”

Frazer’s lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages. It also asks, among other things, that the church stop surreptitiously transferring problem clergy.

The suit also notes that child sexual abuse can cause long-term psychological problems for victims.

In 2009, Frazer pleaded no contest to misdemeanor child pornography charges after lewd photographs were discovered on his computer, according to Hale.

“It was downloaded shortly after the abuse took place,” the attorney said. “He had simply never erased it. It was discovered and reported.”

Hale said the computer behavior was the “direct result” of the psychological trauma Frazer faced after the sexual abuse, which he said often “creates chaos” in the sexual development of victims.

“Unfortunately, this is one of the many examples of the kind of problems this abuse can cause,” Hale said.