Priest Sues Diocese over Alleged Sex Misconduct

By Dave Downey
Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
December 30, 1994

A former priest at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Corona accused of sexual activity with an adult has filed a lawsuit against the church, several church employees and the diocese of San Bernardino over their handling of the allegations.

The former associate pastor, the Rev. Anthony Garduno, denies in the lawsuit that the alleged sexual misconduct occurred.

While not unprecedented, it is rare for priests taken out of parishes because of sexual misconduct allegations to file civil lawsuits, said David Clohessy, national director for a Chicago-based group that monitors such cases. The support group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has 2,100 members nationwide, most of them people who say they were abused by priests as children.

It is more common for a priest to challenge a decision within church hierarchy, making the case that proper church procedure or "canon law" was not adhered to, Clohessy said. On Wednesday, Garduno filed a 63-page lawsuit through Corona lawyer Ralph Lewis in Riverside Superior Court.

Garduno alleges negligence, slander, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress on the part of 10 people associated with the church.

Named are diocese officials Bishop Phillip F. Straling, Monsignor Donald S. Webber and the Rev. Howard Lincoln; Joseph Manacharuvil, a psychologist hired by the diocese; the Rev. Bob Buchanan, former St. Edward's senior pastor; Sister Marie O'Connor, a nun who supervises St. Edward's elementary school; the alleged victim of the alleged misconduct; the brother-in-law of the alleged victim; Marian Fairchild; and Michael Humphrey. Also named in the lawsuit is the St. Edward's parish, the Diocese of San Bernardino, which takes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. Garduno seeks recovery of an unspecified amount of lost earnings, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees. The former associate pastor at St. Edward's, the largest parish in the diocese at 11,000 members, was placed on administrative leave one year ago after he admitted misconduct, said Lincoln, diocese spokesman in San Bernardino.

The suit alleges that Bishop Straling coerced Garduno to sign a statement about the alleged incident.

"He is still on administrative leave," Lincoln said. Lincoln said he did not know, however, whether Garduno still was drawing his $ 540 monthly salary. Garduno is still living in the Corona area. "The allegations in the lawsuit are far from reality," said Lincoln. "Father Garduno's been treated with compassion, kindness and in a just and moral manner. "

The suit says that on Dec. 23, 1993, Buchanan was told that Garduno forced a man to strip for an inspection of his genitals. Neither the suit nor diocesan officials have specified how the alleged force was applied.

The suit alleges that Buchanan told diocese officials about the allegation before contacting Garduno and investigating the matter. It says Buchanan read a statement, or allowed it to be read, at all masses on Jan. 1, 1994, despite knowing it to be false. Officials with the diocese are alleged to have negligently made the alleged admission by Garduno public. Bishop Straling is accused of not consulting either Garduno or the victim, "the only two persons who were present when the alleged incident occurred. " Lincoln said Garduno was interviewed.

"We interview all parties and conduct an investigation" in cases involving alleged sexual misconduct, Lincoln said. "He (the accused priest) is not kept outside and decisions are not made unilaterally. "

Webber, the chancellor of the diocese, supervises investigations into sexual-misconduct allegations against priests within Riverside and San Bernardino counties, Lincoln said.

Vigils were held outside the downtown Corona church in April to try to change the minds of diocese officials and reinstate Garduno. Approximately 1,000 parishioners signed petitions asking that Garduno be reinstated.

Buchanan, a former priest named as a defendant in the suit, resigned several months ago, saying the congregation had become so big it could not be handled without additional help. At the time, he advocated that married men be allowed to serve as priests, to attract more priests.

Four other priests resigned or left their posts amid accusations of sexual misconduct in the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino during a 16-month period ending with Garduno's resignation in January 1994.

The Rev. Edward Ball of Our Lady of Fatima Church in San Bernardino left in September 1992. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of lewd conduct with altar boys, and no contest to a third charge.

In February 1993, the Rev. James Stauber resigned his post at St. John's Catholic Church in Rubidoux. He resigned without admitting wrongdoing, when accused of having had sex with a minor while in another state.

That same month, the Rev. Paul Nguyen resigned as pastor of Riverside's St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.

In April 1993, the Rev. Rudi Gil left his post at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Lake Elsinore after he was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor six years earlier.


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