Three women sue Oakland Diocese over abuse

Three women are suing the Oakland Diocese, days after Gov. Newsom signed a bill giving survivors of child sex abuse more time to file lawsuits.

Donna Stone, Sharon McCann and Judy Ash sued the diocese Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, alleging negligence and seeking unspecified damages. They say they were abused in the 1960s and 1970s by the late Vincent Breen, who was pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in Fremont for nearly three decades.

"Monsignor Breen was definitely a monster. He molested probably hundreds of young girls," Stone said at a news conference Wednesday outside Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, which is the seat of the Bishop of Oakland. 

The lawsuit alleges church officials were aware of what was going on but never took any action against him. 

"Breen was prolific," said the women's attorney Joseph George of Sacramento. "Twenty-eight years he was there. It was his fiefdom."

Breen agreed to retire in exchange for no charges being filed by prosecutors. He died in 1986. The women say the Oakland Diocese is liable for what he did to them.

"We the victims have an opportunity to not only be survivors, but victors," Stone said. "That's important to me. It's part of the healing process."

McCann said she and other girls were abused when they poured coins from church collections into a money-counting machine in Breen's bedroom.

"As soon as you went to take the change into the bedroom to pour into the money machine, he'd trap you on his bedroom, you know, on his bed, and you couldn't get up, because you know, you're a 5th or 6th-grade girl," McCann said.

The lawsuit is among the first filed under a new state law that gives child sex abuse survivors three years to take legal action.

"Finally, this is an opportunity for the people who were sexually abused to have their own say, and have their own voice heard," George said.

The Oakland Diocese confirmed Wednesday that Breen is on its list of priests "credibly accused" of sexual abuse of children and that the abuse stretched from the 1950s to the 1980s.

In a statement, it said, "The Catholic Diocese of Oakland has progressed in its efforts to address the needs of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. We are committed to continuing to improve these efforts."