Friends and parishioners of Lakeport Catholic priest Father Ted Oswald were reeling Wednesday from allegations in a lawsuit that he sexually abused a boy he had befriended more than 10 years ago.
Everybodys still in shock, said Mark Thevenot, who has known Oswald and attended his Masses for 20 years.
Oswald has been saying Mass at Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Lakeport for two decades. He used the sermon on Sunday to announce he would be taking a leave of absence because of the allegations.
You could hear everybody draw a breath, said Phillip Myers, a member of the churchs advisory council.
Shock was followed by tears, then resolve to support a man that some parishioners said they trust and do not believe is capable of causing harm.
I know hes innocent. Ive never been as sure of anything in my life, Thevenot said.
The lawsuit was brought by Christopher Griego, 31, of Tracy. It does not specify what Oswald is accused of doing, only that it involved sexual abuse and occurred between 1988 and 1995 while Oswald was serving in Lakeport and Griego was a parishioner.
Griego could not be reached Wednesday for comment. Oswald also could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A woman who answered the phone at St. Mary Immaculate Church refused to take a message for him.
Griegos lawsuit claims the priests actions caused emotional distress, psychological harm and injury to his mental and physical health.
The lawsuit was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court last year, but did not name Oswald until last month.
Also now named in the complaint is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, which oversees the Lakeport parish, for allegedly failing to protect Griego from Oswald. The diocese has acknowledged paying nearly $25 million to a undisclosed number of people molested by at least six priests. Most victims were pre-teen boys when the molestations began.
The suit contends that because the diocese failed to intervene, Griego has further suffered loss of earnings and incurred expenses for care and counseling.