San Francisco News

Woman claims she was fired by church after abuse

Friday, November 22, 2013

A woman is telling a story of cruelty, harassment and abuse -- all, she says, at the hands of people who consider themselves men of god.

A female worker says she was fired from St. Francis of Assisi Church because she would no longer submit to sexual harassment that included spanking. The woman filed a wrongful termination claim with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The church contends she was fired for other reasons.

Jhona Mathews is a single mother in her early 30s with a 2-year-old child. She worked as an assistant to the church rector Father Harold Sinider. She says the president of the church board of trustees Bill McLaughlin knew she was vulnerable as a young single mother with no particular skills.

Mathews says in her complaint, that he exploited her to satisfy his sexual fantasies.

"Paddling with the wooden paddle, getting spanked in the sacristy of the shrine of St. Francis, which Catholics know, it's just appalling to hear as a catholic and having sexual intercourse in the shrine of St. Francis," Mathews' attorney Sandra Ribera said.

Ribera says McLaughlin also sent her client dirty emails and photos of himself.

Ribera says Mathews was fired two weeks ago after she sent an email to McLaughlin saying she had enough

"When she put her foot down and said 'I want to keep this professional, I want to focus on my job,' a few weeks later she was fired," Ribera said.

Church officials have a different story. They say Mathews was fired because of another issue they couldn't discuss because it's a personnel matter.

"We've seen the complaint filed with the state and it is inflammatory, it's lurid, but those aren't the reasons she was fired," St. Francis of Assisi Board of Trustees spokesperson Larry Kamer said.

ABC7 News learned that early last week, the church filed a police report charging Mathews with embezzlement.

Ribera categorically denies her client stole from the church.

The church has now launched an investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment. They also fired McLaughlin today.

"The father of the church, Father Snider decided that these were sufficient enough to warrant the termination from the board," Kamer said.

ABC7 news tried to contact McLaughlin, the man Mathews says sexually abused her but he did not respond. Kamer, the spokesperson for the church, says all of this is regrettable, but that the good work of the church will continue as their internal investigation proceeds.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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