HAYWARD — As his little brother was upstairs being tossed around in a priest's bed, altar boy Bob Thatcher paced back and forth at the foot of the rectory stairs, frightened and bewildered.

He was 10. He had just commanded his 8-year-old brother, Tom Thatcher, to follow the orders of the Rev. Robert Ponciroli and enter the Catholic priest's bedroom.

Bob Thatcher, now 34, testified Tuesday in a civil trial that his younger brother returned from Ponciroli's bedroom a half hour later looking confused and despondent.

"I remember mouthing to (Tom), 'Are you OK?'" Bob Thatcher told jurors Tuesday morning. "He didn't acknowledge me. And then I was summoned up, so I went up."

The two former Antioch brothers are suing the Diocese of Oakland for failing to protect them from Ponciroli's sexual assaults.

The suit is among dozens against the diocese, including six involving former Fremont and Union City priests.

Both brothers took the stand in the Hayward Hall of Justice for the first time Tuesday, confiding the most personal details of their lives in the fifth and most emotionally charged day of testimony in the ongoing civil trial.

Lawyers for the diocese, which encompasses Alameda and Contra Costa counties, acknowledge that the abuse occurred and that the brothers deserve reasonable compensatory damages, but they contest claims that church leaders knowingly disregarded the boys' safety.

Bob Thatcher also seeks punitive damages, along with compensatory damages, from the diocese.

Ponciroli, now 68, lives in Florida and has been defrocked. A 2003 Supreme Court ruling on the statute of limitations for sex crimes has shielded him from criminal prosecution.

The brothers both said Tuesday that religion was the cornerstone of their family. They said they were enthusiastic when Ponciroli, as the founding pastor of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch, began recruiting altar boys for the new parish.

And on the warm day in 1980 when the abuse against them began, both brothers said they had gone over to Ponciroli's makeshift rectory to help with lawn work. The work lasted less than 15 minutes before an angry Ponciroli called them into the building to punish them for doing a poor job.

Red-haired Tom Thatcher wore a black polo shirt Tuesday and appeared uncomfortable and choked up as he spoke about the sexual abuse that followed.

He said he didn't know what to do when heavyset and gruff Ponciroli, whose angry outbursts frightened him, summoned him into the bedroom and began tickling him, then made him take his shirt off.

"As he pulled me around, I felt like a little rag doll," he said.

Bob Thatcher, speaking less guardedly than his younger brother about the abuse Tuesday, said Ponciroli began with tickling and then moved on to fondling. He said the abuse continued on several occasions, the last time in Ponciroli's car.

"When I hit puberty, and when I realized what sex was ... I realized my first sexual experience was with a 300-pound priest," Bob Thatcher said.

The brothers, both of whom are married and have children, testified about the alcohol and drug addictions of their teenage years and early 20s.

Testimony continues today from a woman who says she was abused by Monsignor George Francis of St. Bede's Catholic Church in Hayward.

Allen Ruby, the diocesan attorney, is expected to begin calling his own witnesses later today or Thursday.

Ruby declined to cross-examine Tom Thatcher on Tuesday, and asked only a few questions of Bob Thatcher.