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Barely a month before Father Gregory Ingels was arraigned in 2003 on charges of molesting a teenage boy years earlier, Jane Parkhurst sat down with a Marin County sheriff's investigator to place a phone call to the priest -- a call that the investigator recorded without Ingels' knowledge.
Parkhurst, 46, a former cop and a bit TV and movie actress, had decided to unburden herself of a painful secret she had carried since her days as a student at Marin Catholic High School. She told authorities that Ingels had sexually abused her for four years starting in 1973, when she was a freshman at the school in suburban Kentfield and Ingels was a teacher and a church deacon about to be ordained as a priest.
The strained phone conversation lasted only a few minutes and did not net incriminating evidence. According to sheriff's records, when Parkhurst alluded to specific improprieties -- which she says included oral copulation and Ingels' routinely having her masturbate him -- Ingels spoke as if he was "shocked" and insisted that nothing improper had occurred between them.
What Ingels had no way of knowing was that Parkhurst was about to provide sheriff's investigators with nearly three dozen love letters that Ingels had written to her, starting in 1974. She continued to receive letters from the priest even after he went away to Rome in 1977 to study canon law. Parkhurst also turned over to investigators meticulously kept personal calendars pertaining to the years of the alleged abuse.
It was more than enough for Marin County District Attorney Paula Kamena to begin preparing to file criminal charges against Ingels. (She had already readied charges with respect to the aforementioned boy.) But the DA's plans were abruptly halted by the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the 1994 California law that had extended the statute of limitation for sex crimes and made it possible for accused offenders to be charged long after the alleged crimes had occurred. The law had been challenged by 75-year-old Marion Stogner, a former Contra Costa County factory worker who was charged in 1998 with sexually abusing his two daughters between the 1950s and 1970s. The decision had huge implications for the church sex scandal, forcing prosecutors throughout California to drop criminal charges against scores of priests accused of past misconduct.
"I'll never forget how sad [now-acting District Attorney] Ed Berberian sounded the day he called to tell us they wouldn't be going forward against Ingels," recalls Doug Parkhurst, a retired police officer who supports his wife's decision to go public with her allegations.
Berberian did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Jane Parkhurst is a slim woman with short-cropped hair that befits her image as a SWAT team expert in the U.S. Army Reserve. (The Demi Moore film G.I. Jane, on which Parkhurst consulted, was largely inspired by her exploits.) But the formidable exterior hid vulnerability and ugly secrets that, Parkhurst says, she kept "bottled up inside for years." Even after she began seeing a psychiatrist in 2002 and came to grips with what she calls "my living nightmare," the one-time regular on the Nash Bridges TV series says she didn't decide to go public until she realized that "unburdening myself of this is the only chance I have to heal the emotional damage done to me."
To that end, she has purposely chosen to do something that few alleged sex abuse victims who sue their accusers do: She has insisted on using her name, rather than being listed as a "Jane Doe." "Jane [Parkhurst] is an exceptionally courageous woman who sees what she's doing as not only helping herself but helping others," says Robert M. Tobin, one of Parkhurst's attorneys.
The lawsuit on her behalf names the Archdiocese of San Francisco along with Ingels and ex-priest Guy Murnig (another former Marin Catholic teacher who she contends sexually abused her). Among other things, it accuses the archdiocese, which includes Marin County, of fraudulently concealing the conduct of its accused priests from law enforcement, Parkhurst's family, and parishioners.
Hers is among 150 cases against Roman Catholic dioceses in Northern California being coordinated by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sabraw in Oakland. A few of the cases have already been set for trial, starting in March. But given the stakes involved with respect to what such trials could reveal about what high church officials knew and when they knew it, some observers consider it highly likely that the more sensitive cases will be settled out of court.
A gifted swimmer and track athlete, Parkhurst had just turned 15 and recalls being "shy and vulnerable" when she came in contact with Ingels at Marin Catholic in the fall of 1973.
She had lost both parents in an auto accident when she was 7 and had had a rough time adjusting to the family that adopted her. Her lawsuit alleges that Ingels first noticed her as the result of a black eye she sustained during a scuffle at home. On the first day they met, she says, he stopped her in a hallway to inquire about her eye and then asked her to step into a private room to talk.