Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Friar accused

Man's lawsuit alleges sex assault in 1980s, names Franciscan Friar
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Posted: Mar. 21, 2011 | 3:46 p.m.
A civil lawsuit filed against a Franciscan friar accuses him of sexually assaulting a Las Vegas boy in the 1980s.

The lawsuit, filed in Clark County on behalf of Tim Coonce, 38, alleges that Brother Tom Thing of Las Vegas sexually assaulted Coonce when he was a seventh-grader at St. Christopher Elementary School in North Las Vegas.

Coonce, a Las Vegas resident, alleges in court papers that Thing acted as a father figure to him, earned his trust and then assaulted him multiple times, including at a Mount Charleston cabin and on a trip to California.

Tim Hale, a Santa Barbara, Calif., attorney who has been involved in multiple sex abuse cases against Franciscans since 1998, said a man in California has accused Thing of molesting him there, before Thing was transferred to Las Vegas.

"He abused a child in the summer of '84 and then just vanished, gone from Santa Barbara," Hale said. "Then he showed up the following year in Vegas, where he abused again."

Court documents indicate Thing was one of several men alleged to be abusers and named in a 1995 lawsuit in Santa Barbara. Hale said the victim in that case settled for an undisclosed amount.

Hale said Franciscans have a history of covering up crimes by moving clerics rather than reporting allegations .

"No one in the next community is aware of the threat they pose," he said.

In 2006, 25 plaintiffs represented by Hale settled lawsuits for $28.4 million against nine California Franciscan friars accused of sexual abuse. Hale said Thing was not implicated in documents related to the case.

Hale is unaware of Thing's current location or status. His last known address was in Las Vegas. A phone message left at the address was not returned. Officials at St. Christopher said they had never heard of Thing.

The Rev. Ken Laverone, a Franciscan spokesman from Santa Barbara, said he had not heard of the lawsuit and declined comment about Thing.

"We've been hit (sued) several times, just as most of the other religious orders in the Catholic Diocese," Laverone said. "We dealt with the others, and we will deal with this one appropriately, also."

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