Lawsuit accuses Stockton priest, once in Manteca, of sexual harassment

A lawsuit has been filed alleging sexual harassment and retaliation by a Diocese of Stockton priest who served at least several years at St. Anthony’s in Manteca.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in San Joaquin Superior Court by Irvine-based law firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi. It claims that on July 26, the Rev. Lawrence McGovern sent sexually explicit photographs to the person claiming to have been a victim, a pool maintenance contractor, then terminated his employment after the person reported the incident.

“This is a classic case of sexual harassment and retaliation,” said the accuser’s attorney John Manly in a news release. “Monsignor McGovern texted a graphic photograph of his naked genitalia to my client, then terminated his employment after my client reported the lewd photo to the police.”

On Friday, the diocese’s director of communications, Sister Terry Davis, issued a brief statement: “Today the Diocese of Stockton learned for the first time of employment related allegations against Monsignor McGovern, the Pastor of Presentation Parish in Stockton. In accordance with the Canon Law of the Church, Bishop Stephen Blaire has placed Monsignor McGovern on administrative leave pending a full and complete investigation.”

McGovern was reassigned from St. Anthony’s to Church of the Presentation in 2000. Modesto Bee archives show McGovern at St. Anthony’s at least as early as 1993. St. Anthony’s on Monday referred media questions to the diocese, but Davis’ office was closed Monday for a religious holiday.

The Stockton Diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2014, citing large awards in sexual abuse lawsuits that have drained the diocesan reserve fund and threatened its general operating budget.

In 2012, McGovern was a witness in the sexual-abuse trial of the Rev. Michael Kelly, who fled to his native Ireland that year. McGovern was pastor of Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton in the 1980s when Kelly was there.

McGovern also was a witness in the trial of Father Oliver O’Grady, who was criminally convicted in San Joaquin County in the 1990s and admitted to abusing children. His crimes were chronicled in the 2006 documentary “Deliver Us from Evil.”

“Monsignor McGovern was a witness and denied knowing of any sexual improprieties by Father Kelly and Father O’Grady, despite living with them in the rectory for years and contrary to victim statements,” Vince W. Finaldi, an attorney for the person claiming to have been a victim in the current lawsuit, said in the news release. “It is sad but not surprising that he now stands accused of sexual misconduct.”