Diocese to Pay $1M in Abuse Case
Turlock Priest Admitted Molestation; 2nd Cleared
By Joe Tone
Stockton Record [Stockton CA]
Downloaded March 6, 2003
A day after one of its former employees was acquitted of sex charges, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton admitted it had agreed months before to pay $1 million to a 19-year-old man who was molested as a youth in 1997 by a Turlock priest.
The church settled the case as pressure mounted from the victim and his Sacramento attorney, who were demanding restitution for the church's failure to report the abuse.
Stockton Bishop Steven Blaire said Wednesday that the diocese had decided it would be preferable to settle the case, thus avoiding a potentially lengthy and damaging trial.
The victim, who was 14 at the time of the incident, has accused two Sacred Heart Catholic Church leaders of wrongdoing: the Rev. Oscar Pelaez, a priest who admitted molesting the boy and whose actions led to the $1 million settlement; and Jose Luis Perez, a former youth-group coordinator who was cleared Tuesday of allegations that he molested the boy a year before Pelaez did.
Perez, 44, was arrested on molestation charges in February 2002. But a Stanislaus County Superior Court jury acquitted him of all charges Tuesday.
Pelaez is serving 40 months at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione. He was fired swiftly by the diocese when the allegations surfaced in 2001 and was sent immediately to an East Coast mental-health facility, but the diocese never reported the abuse to authorities.
The victim's therapist did, however, and Pelaez was prosecuted last summer, pleading no contest to 12 counts of child molestation.
Because the victim was an adult when the diocese learned of the abuse, the church kept the allegations quiet, believing it had no legal obligation to alert authorities, Blaire said.
But Sacramento attorney Joseph George disagreed, arguing that because the priest could have access later to other minors, the church was obligated to report the incident to Child Protective Services.
The parties agreed to discuss the issues in mediation, and after two meetings, both of which Blaire attended, the church agreed to settle in December.
"They've made an issue about not reporting," Blaire said Wednesday. "We had no obligation to report."
But, he said, the church believed a settlement would be best because of "the uncertainty involved in what would be litigated."
George said his client is pleased with the settlement.
"He's getting ready to move," George said.
The settlement surfaced less than a month after another Sacramento attorney filed a lawsuit accusing the diocese and its former leader, Cardinal Roger Mahony, of covering up allegations of abuse in the 1980s.
That suit was filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court in February, claiming Mahony, now archbishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, violated anti-racketeering laws when hiding abuse allegations against a now-deceased priest who worked at St. Mary's of the Assumption in Stockton.
In 1999, the diocese was ordered to pay $13 million to two brothers who were abused by the Rev. Oliver O'Grady, who admitted the crimes and spent several years in state prison.
* To reach reporter Joe Tone, phone 546-8272 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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