Santa Rosa priest is lone accused diocesan official still serving as clergyman

The former Hanna Boys Center director says the child abuse lawsuit “came as a shot out of nowhere.”|

Out of at least 130 child sexual abuse cases currently pending against the Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Diocese, one in particular stands out.

It is a claim involving Monsignor James Pulskamp, 81, and it’s unique because he’s currently serving as pastor at Star of the Valley Catholic Church in Oakmont.

Pulskamp, who served as director of the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma Valley from 1972 to 1984, is the only accused priest in the diocese so far still serving in a clerical position.

He said he’s completely perplexed by the origin of the case filed against him — he said he doesn’t know the name of the plaintiff — and hasn’t been legally served.

An attorney for the diocese, however, said she had been served because they are a defendant, as well.

Pulskamp said he was only informed of the accusation because a Bay Area television station aired a story about him in June.

“I know the accusation is false,” Pulskamp told The Press Democrat on Thursday. “Nothing happened.”

The suit, he said, “came as a shot out of nowhere.”

The lawsuit was filed earlier this year on behalf of a plaintiff identified as John Doe by San Francisco attorney Mary Alexander.

The suit is lengthy but short on detail, identifying only multiple “Doe” defendants and saying the “Doe Perpetrator” transported the plaintiff somewhere “to obtain forced, sexual services … in a secluded area.”

It is among more than 1,000 Northern California clergy abuse cases being coordinated through the Alameda County Courthouse because of a wave of new lawsuits authorized by the state legislature, which opened a three-year window Jan. 1, 2020, allowing adult survivors to make claims outside the statute of limitations.

The window closes Dec. 31.

Pulskamp’s name does not appear in the lawsuit in its current form. Like most of the cases filed in the three-year batch of claims, both plaintiffs and defendants appear anonymously, as John Doe or Defendant Doe.

The priest’s identity is revealed in just one document: A “matrix” created for the court as a kind of cheat sheet for the purpose of managing and coordinating the growing number of cases. It is regularly submitted to the court in connection with monthly case management meetings.

The chart includes valuable information, such as case number, law firm, defense counsel, date filed, alleged perpetrator and time frame in which the alleged abuse occurred.

Though not a formal court document, it is created under court order, said plaintiffs attorney Rick Simons, liaison counsel for the Northern California cases. The matrix document also is available for public viewing though difficult to find in the online court files.

Most of the other alleged perpetrators from the Santa Rosa Diocese have died or were removed from the priesthood.

Pulskamp left Hanna to serve as vicar general and chancellor for the diocese, where, as the region’s second-highest officer, he was often among those reviewing child abuse accusations.

He has had an untarnished record throughout, Bishop Robert Vasa said.

Vasa said he and the Diocesan Review Board, on which Pulskamp once served, have reviewed the case.

“It’s really questionable, and they determined it was not deemed at this point a credible accusation,” Vasa said. “The man has an impeccable record of 50 years of priesthood. It’s so long ago — 50 years — and it just does not meet the criteria.”

Alexander was not immediately available to discuss the case, despite several phone calls.

Pulskamp said he told his congregation about the accusation during a weekend mass right after the news story broke, and said, “None of them are buying into it.”

And he said he has no idea who might have filed the lawsuit or what they might be referring to.

“I’ve never been accused of molesting a child in my 81 years and 55 as a priest, so I don’t know what the details are,” he said. “I don’t even know.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor