Napa News

THE NAPA VALLEY REGISTER
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

FORMER TEACHER BLAMED IN 1960s MOLESTATION
Incident allegedly took place more than 30 years ago in Berkeley
By NATHAN CRABBE
Register Staff Writer

    A former math teacher at Napa's St. Apollinaris Catholic School has been accused of molesting a student more than 30 years ago at a Berkeley school.

    Brother Francis Verngren is accused of molesting a student from 1966-70 in a civil lawsuit filed last week. The former student, Gene Reedy, sued Verngren under a California law that temporarily revokes the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes. Verngren was principal and head dorm resident at St. Mary's Preparatory Grammar School in Berkeley at the time of the allegations. Reedy was allegedly molested beginning when he was 11 years old, according to the suit. The suit seeks damages, lost wages, cost of therapy and attorney fees. Verngren couldn't be reached for comment.

    St. Apollinaris' pastor, Msgr. Joseph Alzugaray, said Verngren was a math tutor at the school but hasn't worked there for more than a year. Verngren is well into his 80s and now retired, Alzugaray said.

    Alzugaray, who has been with the school for 1 1/2 years, said he wasn't aware of any molestation accusations against Verngren in Napa. He said he was "shocked" at the current allegations based on his personal experience with Verngren.

    The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court under a California law that took affect Jan. 1. The law, the only one of its kind in the United States, lifts the state of limitations on sexual abuse for one year.

    Reedy is now 48 and lives in Arizona. He had until recently repressed memories about the alleged incident, said his attorney, Mary Alexander.

    The new law allows abuse victims "to now come forward for justice and to make a difference in other peoples' lives," Alexander said.

    Verngren is accused of fondling Reedy's genitals, kissing and cuddling him and getting Reedy to masturbate, kiss and fondle Verngren. The filing claims Verngren "presented himself as a benevolent, caring spiritual advisor whose intention was to help (Reedy). "In fact, their relationship was one of sexual abuse and exploitation," the suit claims.

    Reedy disclosed the alleged molestation to a St. Mary's coach in 1969, according to the suit. Verngren was temporarily removed but then returned to his position, the suit alleges.

    The legal action also names Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Diocese of Oakland and its bishop, Rev. John Cummins. Phone calls for comment left with representatives of both organizations weren't returned in time for publication.

    The lawsuit isn't the first time a former St. Apollinaris employee has faced molestation accusations. Last year, a former parish priest was accused of molesting an altar boy when he worked in Oregon.