|Civil Suit Charts History of Church Abuse in County
Boy, 8, Allegedly Molested by Priests in Salinas, Arizona
By Virginia Hennessey
May 17, 2009
When Catholic dioceses across the country faced spectacular headlines and billions of dollars in settlements over clergy abuse in recent years, the Diocese of Monterey was relatively quiet.
This week, the Rev. Antonio Cortes, pastor of St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Salinas, faces a preliminary hearing on criminal charges of sodomy and molestation involving a 16-year-old boy. Cortes is also accused of possessing graphic child pornography.
Waiting in the wings is a case that carries much broader implications for the diocese and its former leaders.
Set for trial next month, a lawsuit alleges that a migrant who served as an altar boy in Salinas and Arizona was sexually assaulted by two priests for six years, starting in 1988 when the boy was 8 years old.
In pretrial testimony, diocese leaders acknowledged that when they learned about abuse involving the Rev. John Velez, they did not alert authorities, did nothing to protect the boy, and made no effort to determine whether other victims or perpetrators existed.
According to court records, the diocese's attorney and a priest told the boy's parents the molestation was "not a big deal."
Meanwhile, the suit alleges, the boy was being molested by another priest, the Rev. Juan Guillen of Tucson, who took over as pastor of Christ the King Church in Salinas for three weeks after Velez was sent to a retreat house where he tried to commit suicide.
Velez is believed to be practicing as a priest in Mexico. Guillen, who had allegedly been molesting the boy for years, is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Arizona for sex crimes against children.
Prohibition to practice
Among the hierarchy snared in the civil case against the priests and the diocese are retired Bishop Sylvester Ryan and Monsignor Charles Fatooh, who revealed in a deposition that he was accused of child molestation in 2003.
Testimony sheds new light on the relationship between the Monterey diocese and another widely suspected Diocese of Tucson abuser, Robert Trupia, who has since been defrocked by the Vatican.
After many reports of molestations, the Tucson diocese prohibited Trupia from practicing as a priest in 1991 and began proceedings to have him defrocked in 1992. Despite that, Fatooh and Ryan brought Trupia to Monterey in 1993 to work as a canon law consultant in the diocese offices, next to San Carlos School.
Trupia worked in the Diocese of Monterey and lived with Fatooh until 1995, when his contract was canceled amid growing scandal. Fatooh, second in command of the diocese, testified that Ryan forced him to resign as a scapegoat when Trupia's background — and the fact that Trupia was by then living in Fatooh's Maryland condominium — became public knowledge in 2003.
After a sabbatical, Fatooh is now a parish priest in Cayucos.
Whether information regarding Trupia and Fatooh's abuse allegation will be presented as evidence in the upcoming trial has yet to be determined. But Fatooh, Ryan and a number of other diocese priests are expected to be called to the stand. Potential jurors will fill out initial questionnaires June 8, and testimony, which is expected to last a month or more, will likely begin the next week.
Diocese spokesman Warren Hoy declined to comment on pretrial testimony, citing the pending trial.
"The Diocese of Monterey is confident that the legal system works well when matters to be raised in the trial are kept in the trial setting," he said in a prepared statement. "We are confident that the court will make appropriate rulings on the relevance of evidence to the issues of the trial."
Case back in county
The lawsuit by "John Doe" was filed in 2003 in Orange County because one of Guillen's alleged molestations occurred on a trip to Disneyland. The case was ordered litigated with dozens of other clergy-abuse cases in Southern California. Initially reported by local media, it soon fell off the radar.
But as the other Southern California cases settled for hundreds of millions of dollars, Doe's case was quietly transferred back to Monterey County. Court records lay out the following claims by the alleged victim, who is now 29.
The boy moved with his parents and siblings from Mexico to Yuma, Ariz., in 1988, when he was 8 years old. Guillen, their pastor at Immaculate Conception Church, quickly took the boy and his family under his wing, making the youngster an altar boy and providing financial support for his family.
He allegedly began molesting the boy and made it clear that support for his family was contingent on his cooperation. The abuse continued for several months until 1989, when the family followed the migrant trail to Salinas. There they settled into the parish of Christ the King Church.
Guillen often visited the family, who trusted him so much they let him sleep in the boy's bed, where Guillen allegedly continued his molestations.
Reports of misconduct
In 1990, The Rev. John Velez left his small parish in El Paso, Texas, under a cloud of unspecified misconduct. He sought a priest's position in Sacramento but was turned away after church leaders checked his references in El Paso.
In 1991, he landed in Monterey County. Bishop Thaddeus Shubsda, shortly before his death, arranged for Velez to live at St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Salinas — where Cortes now faces charges — and become associate pastor at Christ the King.
After Shubsda died, Fatooh asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to allow Velez, a native of Bogota, Colombia, to transfer to Monterey.
Like Guillen, who continued to visit Doe, Velez soon began molesting him, taking "naps" with him at various churches, according to court papers.
Fatooh and others later testified that the diocese had no policies prohibiting priests from taking boys into their beds or on overnight trips at the time.
Ironically, it was Guillen who reported Velez's abuse to church officials.
Removed from post
In August 1991, Christ the King Pastor Manuel Canal took his annual month vacation to his native Spain, leaving Velez alone in the parish. One night, Velez allegedly escalated the nature of his abuse.
The frightened child called Guillen, who was irate, despite his own alleged abuses. He flew to Monterey, told the boy's parents about Velez's actions and advised them to ask the church to pay for their son's counseling. He then reported Velez to the diocese.
When Velez was removed from his post and Canal declined to cut short his vacation, Guillen took over pastoral duties in the parish for three weeks, allegedly molesting the boy on every visit.
Fatooh and Vicar General Declan Murphy acknowledged in testimony that they did not report the alleged abuse to child protective services or to police. They did not ask the boy what happened to him, whether he thought there were other victims, or if anyone else had molested him.
Instead, Fatooh testified, he followed unwritten policy and called the diocese's lawyer.
"At the time, I was not a mandated reporter," a person required to report child molestation to authorities, he testified. "It wasn't even in my thought process at that time."
Velez was confronted and admitted the abuse, according to court documents. Fatooh sent him to St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista, a counseling center where other pedophile priests have been sent. Within days, Velez tried to commit suicide and was rushed to the Catholic-owned Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz.
Doe's attorneys say records of Velez's treatment at Dominican and St. Francis have been destroyed.
Upon his release from Dominican, Velez was escorted out of the country and turned over to representatives of his religious order, the Marists, in Mexico City. He has not been defrocked and is presumed to be a practicing priest somewhere in Latin America.
Money for counseling
On Guillen's advice, Doe's parents asked diocese attorney Albert Ham and the Rev. Greg Sandman, at the time pastor of St. Mary of the Nativity, for $10,000 to pay for counseling.
In response, according to court records, Ham and Sandman, now a teacher at Palma High School, laughed and "told the parents ... the abuse of their son was 'not a big deal' and that this sort of thing happens to a lot of kids," according to court records detailing the victim's testimony.
"They told the parents that it would only be a big deal if they made it a big deal and that it would be best for their child if they just forgot about it."
Fatooh and other church officials said the family repeatedly declined counseling and other services.
The alleged victim claims Guillen continued to molest and rape him until 1994. Diocese officials deny that Guillen ever served as a priest in Salinas, but acknowledge that the Rev. Canal had the right to grant sacramental privileges to any priest in his parish.
Unaware of accusations
Fatooh's deposition provided the first revelation that he was accused of child molestation "shortly after the dismissal of the diocese." He said the claim was meritless and was filed "about one minute before the last day" of an extended statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases in 2003.
The allegation, filed with the diocese, dated to 1973 when Fatooh was a Marianist brother at Chaminade College Preparatory High School in Woodland Hills. He said Ryan initiated an investigation, but later turned over the complaint to the Marianist order, which settled it as part of a global abuse settlement.
Fatooh's testimony shed light on Ryan's broader handling of molestation cases and the national clergy-abuse scandal.
Arriving in the diocese less than four months after Guillen reported Doe's alleged abuse, the new bishop took no action to investigate the claims or alert parishioners whose children may have come in contact with Velez, Fatooh said.
Two years later, Fatooh testified, Ryan authorized Trupia's contract as an expert in canon law, which includes rules regarding the protection of children. Fatooh said he and Ryan were aware there were accusations against Trupia, though they were unaware of the extent. According to media reports in Arizona, Trupia is suspected of molesting as many as 30 children since the 1960s.
Fatooh said he and Ryan had Trupia consult an attorney to make "sure the diocese was protected." No effort was made to inform parishioners or San Carlos School parents of Trupia's presence.
When the extent of the claims against Trupia became clear, his contract was revoked. But Ryan took no public action until Trupia's background and past presence in the diocese were reported in the media eight years later.
The revelations first came to light when a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star tracked down Trupia in Maryland, where he was living in a condominium owned by Fatooh.
Ryan responded by asking his second-in-command to resign, the monsignor testified. Fatooh said he thought Ryan treated him unfairly, given that the bishop worked directly with Trupia for three years and was aware of his background.
When Fatooh complained that he was being made a scapegoat, the bishop apologized, saying he "had to do it" because the situation looked bad in the public's eye.
"He told people that he had to make this decision, but there was nothing to it," Fatooh said.
Fatooh took a sabbatical, according to his testimony, then was assigned to Cayucos. Doe's attorney, John Manley of Newport Beach, described the assignment as "clerical Siberia."
Defrocked in 2004
Public records show Trupia is in Maryland. After using his expert knowledge in canon law to wage a long battle with the Diocese of Tucson, he was defrocked by the Vatican in 2004.
He was charged but never tried for child molestation after a court ruled the criminal statute of limitations had expired on his pending accusations. The Tucson diocese settled 11 lawsuits against him in 2002 for an undisclosed amount that has been reported to exceed $15 million.
Guillen was charged in 2002 with 12 felony counts of child molestation and other sexual conduct with children in Arizona. He pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted child molestation in 2003 and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Hoy, the diocese's spokesman, said Doe's lawsuit is one of 10 filed against the diocese in the past decade and the only one to remain unsettled. He declined to say how much was paid in settlements, but said no diocese property was sold to raise money.
In 2004, Ryan warned parishioners the diocese might have to sell properties to cover the costs of lawsuits, including Doe's.
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or email@example.com.
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