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Righting a wrong

A devout Catholic, teacher fought Church's coverup of sex abuse

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Righting a wrong

Social science teacher John Salberg was repeatedly abused by Rev. Joseph Pritchard, on of 15 priests the San Jose diocese confirmed is accused of sex abuse.

Social science teacher John Salberg was repeatedly abused by Rev. Joseph Pritchard, on of 15 priests the San Jose diocese confirmed is accused of sex abuse.

Julia Marques da Silva

Social science teacher John Salberg was repeatedly abused by Rev. Joseph Pritchard, on of 15 priests the San Jose diocese confirmed is accused of sex abuse.

Julia Marques da Silva

Julia Marques da Silva

Social science teacher John Salberg was repeatedly abused by Rev. Joseph Pritchard, on of 15 priests the San Jose diocese confirmed is accused of sex abuse.

Annalise Freimarck, Managing Editor

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A poster hung up in social science teacher John Salberg’s classroom reads “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

With the release in mid-October of the 200 members of the clergy in the Bay Area who are accused of abuse, and with the church only confirming 15 already mentioned from the San Jose diocese, Salberg is again reminded of the meaning of that word.

Salberg, a devout Catholic, came forward almost two decades ago about the abuse he suffered as a child under a priest.

From second grade until eighth grade, the Rev. Joseph Pritchard repeatedly abused him and other students at St. Martin of Tours school and parish in San Jose. Despite the repeated pleas over the decades from his and other parents about the abuse that their children had suffered, he said the church paid lip service to their concerns and continued to hide the abuse from the public eye.

“It’s just ironic that it’s reported in 1980, it’s reported in 2000 and it’s reported again in 2002, that it takes that many times to admit it, even though every time (the church) said it’s happened,” he said.

His experience came out at a time when the Catholic Church was roiled in a major sex abuse scandal starting with reports of sex abuse of thousands by the clergy in Boston.

Frustrated with the Church’s coverup of the abuse, Salberg called for complete transparency from the Church. He and three others who were also abused by Pritchard sued the Church in 2005.

The Church then offered $500,000 to keep quiet about the abuse, which he declined. He said that he was compelled to make his story public, even though he was going up against the institution that formed the basis of his moral character. He sued the church in a push for transparency.

“I was taught to be a man for others,” he said. “A man for others means that you stand up for others, whether it costs you your job, your reputation, whatever… if it’s the right thing to do, you do it.”

In 2005, they won the lawsuit for $6 million, which was split among the four of them.

Despite winning the lawsuit, Salberg continued his call for transparency, because he believed the the Church was still withholding information about the abuse.

The decision by the San Jose diocese to release the names of 15 members of the church who have been accused of sexual abuse with children follows the grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that uncovered the abuse of over 1,000 victims by 300 priests over 70 years.

This acknowledgement of abuse by the church, after years of silence, has rehashed the need for transparency for Salberg.

He said that the renewed attention to the Catholic church’s dealing of victims of sex abuse by its clergy is just the starting point, and that there are more priests to be named.

“There’s a lot more information that they’re not divulging,” Salberg said. “These names didn’t come back in 2002 when I went public.”

Every year Salberg shares his story of abuse with his senior class, in order to help any other possible survivors of sexual abuse to know that it’s OK to come forward and be supported.

“Whether it’s a student of Branham, an adult somewhere else, someone older than me, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I just want to give them the opportunity to know that you can make it and you’re not alone, you’re not the only one.”

Despite his criticisms of the Catholic church’s handling of the sex abuse, Salberg remains a devout practitioner. He enrolls his three children at St. Martin, the school where he was abused. He attends mass every week. It is his faith, he said, that has helped him through tough times, which has included the deaths of his brother and best friends over a span of eight years.

“I look at this church as a foundation for my life,” he said. “It got me through those times. It got me through the everyday routines. It’s just something I turn to.”

*Note: This story has been updated from the linked story.*

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