Lawsuit Claims Priest Was Relocated

By Steve E. Swenson
Bakersfield Californian
April 8, 2010

A man who says he was an altar boy at St. Francis Catholic Church is suing the Catholic diocese in Fresno for fraud over an alleged molestation by a priest nearly 20 years ago.

The now 35-year-old Bakersfield man alleges in a lawsuit that when he was 17 years old in 1991, he was molested for two years by a priest, the Rev. Hermy Dave O. Ceniza.

The suit says Bishop John T. Steinbock met privately with the teen for two hours in 1993, and Steinbock promised Ceniza would no longer be a priest or have access to children.

The suit says the plaintiff felt the problem had been addressed. The youth did not go to the police, nor did he seek any lawsuit remedy.

But a year ago, amid publicity in another Fresno diocese case that alleged priests suspected of molestation were secretly moved to another parish, the man decided to look into what happened to Ceniza. The lawsuit alleges Ceniza remains a priest working in the Philippines.

The Bakersfield man, who is unmarried and pursuing a college degree, "feels like he was duped," said attorney Joseph C. George of Sacramento, who filed the lawsuit Monday in Fresno County Superior Court.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money based on fraud.

Jesse J. Avila, the communications director for the diocese, said the diocese will look into the matter but has not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and had no comment.

Avila said he did not know the whereabouts of Ceniza.

The lawsuit alleges all bishops in the world were given a papal instruction from the Vatican in 1962 to keep secret reports of sexual abuse by priests and not disclose any reports to law enforcement or other priests and parishes. That instruction was binding until 2001, the lawsuit says, when the policy was changed after worldwide publicity on sexual abuse by clergy and secrecy by the church.

George said Steinbock did send the information about his client and Ceniza to the Bakersfield Police Department in 2003, but the legal deadline to file charges had passed.

Police on Thursday could find no record they received any reports on Ceniza, Sgt. Mary DeGeare said.

George said his investigators tracked Ceniza to the Philippines.

The lawsuit alleges that the youth attempted in 1993 to end the sexual contact.

But Ceniza became "extremely demanding" of the youth, the lawsuit says, and that's when the youth contacted the diocese and filed a report.

The diocese is represented by attorney Rosemary McGuire of Fresno who did not return a telephone call Thursday. George said McGuire told him the diocese could not release any records of Ceniza without his authorization.



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