|Yakima Catholic Diocese Is Sued for Alleged Abuse by Deacon
July 13, 2011
He worked in Wenatchee and Zillah, but then fled to Mexico
Predator then became an Episcopal priest before being ousted
Others who “saw, suspected or suffered”his crimes are urged “come forward”
A new clergy sex abuse lawsuit is being filed that accuses a Yakima diocesan Catholic deacon of sexually abused a boy at a church in Zillah, WA in 1999.
The alleged victim, identified as John Doe, says he was molested by Rev. Aaron Ramirez. The alleged victim went to police immediately but did not immediately press charges. When Ramirez was asked by diocesan officials to go to the police to answer questions shortly afterwards, he disappeared. Ramirez confessed his guilt to Yakima officials before 2005.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Ramirez later emerged as an Episcopal priest in Mexico City. He was apparently ordained in the Episcopal church within a year of the alleged abuse in Washington.
In 2006, a concerned Yakima Catholic, Robert Fontana, wrote Ramirez’s supervisors in Mexico, detailing Ramirez’ guilty plea in the criminal case. Based on the information Fontana provided, Ramirez then was ousted by Episcopal Bishop Touche-Porter of Mexico City.
SNAP called Fontana “a hero” for his efforts to protect kids.
“Fontana, by his courage and compassion, has protected vulnerable children and no doubt prevented this deacon and priest from hurting other kids,” said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP’s president and founder. “If more Catholics with information or suspicions of child sex crimes would speak up like he did, families would be much safer.”
In an email to the Herald Republic, Touche-Porter wrote: "Our experience with the Roman Catholic Church concerning clergy who transfer to our church has not been positive. We either get misleading information or total silence."
SNAP urges anyone who saw, suspected or suffered child sexual abuse by Ramirez or other clerics to call law enforcement, not church staff.
The victim, now in his late twenties, lives in Oregon. He is represented by Yakima attorney Blaine Tamaki (509-248-8338).
Ramirez also worked in Wenatchee, WA.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP Executive Director (314) 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP President and Founder (312) 399 4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com
Barb Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Director (314) 503 0003, SNAPdorris@gmail.com
Trust -- The unsettling saga of a suspicious deacon
Editor's note: Although the Yakima Herald-Republic routinely withholds the names of people suspected of crimes unless they are formally charged, Aaron Ramirez is identified here because his name has been published in public documents.
By JANE GARGAS - YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC
On a balmy summer night seven years ago, a 35-year-old man studying to be a Catholic priest invited a 17-year-old boy to spend the evening with him in a trailer on the grounds of Resurrection Catholic Church in Zillah.
The aspiring priest, officially known as a deacon, gave the teen two bottles of Budweiser and a bottle of wine, according to a police report. When those bottles were empty, the deacon, who was drinking very little, brought over more wine from the church.
Nauseous, the teen passed out on the porch of the trailer. According to his account, he said he woke up several hours later, with no clothes on, lying next to the deacon, also naked, in bed.
Thus begins a distressing saga covering two countries and two religious denominations, and not resolving -- if it ever resolves -- until a little over a month ago.
"This case was very frustrating," lamented Zillah police Chief Dave Simmons.
The deacon, Aaron Ramirez, was a rising star in the Catholic community when he visited Zillah in July 1999 from another parish in the Catholic Diocese of Yakima.
But what happened during one critical night of his visit has had profound consequences for several people and churches.
The teenager reported the evening's incident to the police the next day but said he couldn't remember what had happened. He was unable to make an official statement due to his "significant emotional state," according to the police report.
The police never obtained a complete statement, nor were charges ever filed.
"We felt likely that (molestation) might have occurred, but the victim didn't want to discuss it," Simmons said during an interview last month.
"Sometimes victims think they were the ones who did something wrong, especially when the suspect is someone in a supervisory role, like teachers, ministers or police," Simmons explained.
Shortly after the incident, Yakima diocesan officials told Ramirez, who had returned to his assigned parish, that they were sending a car the next day to bring him back for police questioning.
But when the driver arrived, Ramirez had vanished.
And since the teen wouldn't press charges, there was no immediate case.
The matter remained in limbo until several years ago, when Dallas newspaper reporters were researching a story about Catholic clerics who turn up working in churches in other countries after allegations of abuse have been made against them.
The reporters found that Ramirez was serving as an Episcopal priest in two parishes outside Mexico City.
"He became an Episcopal priest a year after the Zillah incident," Reese Dunklin, a reporter with The Dallas Morning News, said in a recent telephone interview.
About 18 months ago, the local Voice of the Faithful, a group advocating reforms in the Catholic Church, was alerted that the missing Ramirez -- who had been in Mexico for six years by then -- had been named in the Dallas newspaper.
VOTF coordinator Robert Fontana wrote a letter to Yakima Bishop Carlos Sevilla in June 2005, asking if the Episcopal Bishop of Mexico City had ever been notified of the Zillah incident.
He also wrote to the Diocesan Lay Advisory Board, asking that the Mexico bishop be fully informed about Ramirez.
At the time, Fontana was working as diocesan director of evangelism; he left his job in 2005 and subsequently sued the diocese, saying he had been reprimanded for questioning how the diocese was implementing its policy of protecting children from abuse. His lawsuit was dismissed in Superior Court last May but is under appeal.
Sevilla wrote back to Fontana, saying that he had never "received an inquiry about Aaron from the Episcopal diocese."
Sevilla mentioned in his reply to Fontana that Ramirez had admitted (to Yakima church officials) that he had sexually molested the Zillah teenager.
In early July 2005, Sevilla wrote to Carlos Touche-Porter, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mexico.
"In August 1999 Father Ramirez sexually abused a young 17-year-old at one of my parishes. He decided to leave the country immediately," he wrote.
Touche-Porter replied, "It worries me what you have said about Father Aaron Ramirez. I ask that you please send me any type of documentation that you have, and I also ask that you notify me if the case was denounced to the police."
The two letters have been translated from Spanish.
Sevilla responded, reiterating the information in the original letter, accord to Touche-Porter, but including no documentation.
When contacted last month about the incident and other diocesan matters, Sevilla declined to comment.
After the correspondence, Touche-Porter questioned Ramirez about the Zillah incident, and Ramirez -- by then an ordained Episcopalian priest -- denied any culpability.
Touche-Porter later explained, in an e-mail to the Yakima Herald-Republic, that he hadn't taken Sevilla seriously when there was no documentation forthcoming.
"Our experience with the Roman Catholic Church concerning clergy who transfer to our church has not been positive," Touche-Porter e-mailed. "We either get misleading information or total silence."
The e-mail continued, "I do not know Bishop Sevilla at all and I did not know whether the information was reliable or not. I am not accusing him of anything. I am just saying that in my judgment, what he sent was not what we require in order to take action."
So no action was taken. It was limbo again; Ramirez continued his Episcopal priesthood, the police had no case and the diocese here felt it had done what it could.
But the case still nagged at Fontana. He recoiled at the image of a man, who had admitted molesting a minor, still working in the clergy.
Stressing that he wasn't on a witch hunt to find errant clerics, Fontana said his overarching interest has been to change a system that he thinks protects priests more than children.
Finally, Fontana decided to take steps on his own. On Oct. 5, 2006, he wrote to Touche-Porter and asked if he knew that a priest in his diocese had molested a boy in Washington state.
Touche-Porter answered Fontana the same way he had Sevilla: Please send documentation.
Fontana did; he mailed a copy of the police report.
By the end of that month, after convening the governing committee of his diocese and presenting the police document, Touche-Porter permanently suspended the man from the priesthood.
Fontana believes that most people would do exactly what he did if they felt children might be in danger. It saddens him that the diocese here didn't respond more strongly.
"There's been a pattern that this diocese doesn't act to protect children," Fontana said.
"There's a hierarchical system in the Catholic Church," he added, "that keeps them from aggressively pursuing the truth."
Russ Mazzola of the Diocesan Lay Advisory Board takes exception to that.
"If a fellow bishop, even of another faith, wrote and told you about (a molestation incident), why was that not enough?"
In Touche-Porter's view, it wasn't enough because "an important part of our zero-tolerance policy is not to proceed without ample and satisfactory written and/or personal evidence."
Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in Washington, D.C., believes the stalemate could have been averted. Her office was created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to oversee adherence to church sexual abuse policies after a clergy scandal erupted in Boston in 2002.
While commenting that she didn't know details of Ramirez' case, Kettelkamp said that it could have been helpful for the Yakima bishop to direct the Mexico bishop to Zillah police for documentation.
"The question we have to ask is if we have done everything we can to preclude future victims," she said.
She added, "If you keep your eye on the goal of protecting children, all decisions that have to be made will be clear."
To Fontana, the diocesan eye has veered off target. "The bishop does the very minimum, and in the case of Ramirez, he didn't even do that," he said.
However, Zillah's Chief Simmons emphasized that the diocese cooperated with his agency. "At the time, the Catholic Church did everything it could to help with the investigation," he said.
But Simmons noted that he still feels disquieted whenever a child molestation case isn't resolved, an uneasiness that Kettelkamp shares. "I'm always concerned in a case like (that)," Kettelkamp said. "You worry that there will be more victims when the perpetrator isn't removed from a supervisory role."
But Ramirez has been, and Touche-Porter has mounted an investigation to see if there were any molestation incidents in Mexico related to the man. Noting that Ramirez will not be allowed to function as a priest in Mexico or anywhere else in the worldwide Anglican Communion, Touche-Porter said, "This has been a very painful situation for us."
Overview of the Aaron Ramirez-Lopez Case
1. Ramirez was ordained a deacon in 1999 (I’m assuming in the spring).
2. He was assigned to work at Resurrection Parish in Zillah, WA where he could go to English language classes at a nearby school.
3. He apparently was moved to St. Joseph Church in Wenatchee, WA (two hour drive from Zillah) and quickly reassigned back to Zillah according to his former pastor Fr. Bill Shaw. Shaw doesn’t know why this happened.
4. Ramirez molested a teenage boy (16 or 17 years old) at the parish rectory in Zillah in early August, 1999. He fled or was sent to Wenatchee by church authorities.
5. Bishop Sevilla learned of the incident while vacationing in California. He called Ramirez who was still in Wenatchee to inform the deacon that he must turn himself into authorities who were looking for him. Interestingly, at this same time, the chancellor of the diocese was driving to Wenatchee to pick up Ramirez and return him to Zillah to be questioned by the local police. Why would Sevilla call Ramirez when his chancellor, Ron Metha, was going to Wenatchee to get Ramirez? Did Sevilla give Ramirez a “heads up to get out of town?”
6. Ramirez fled to Mexico.
7. Sevilla was in contact with Ramirez and, according to a memo to me, informed the deacon that he would have to tell any diocese in which he wished to serve as a priest about the molestation incident. Sevilla never informed any catholic diocese in Mexico of the molestation and of Ramirez’ intentions of continuing in ministry.
8. Ramirez became an Episcopal priest in 2002. Sevilla was aware of this according to his memo to me, but received no inquiry from the Episcopal church of Mexico. By implication, Sevilla never offered any information as well.
9. In October 2003 Bishop reported Ramirez’s abuse in a press release that included information on other clergy who had molested.
10. In the spring of 2005 I learned that the Dallas Morning News was interested in the Ramirez case. I contacted Reese Dunklin who informed me that Ramirez had become an Episcopal priest with the full knowledge of the Bishop of Yakima. Dunlin sent me the police report.
I communicated this to Bishop Sevilla by letter and through the exchange learned that, indeed, Ramirez had admitted to the molestation and that Sevilla know that Ramirez had become an Episcopal priest but failed to inform the Episcopal diocese of Mexico of the molestation.
10. I wrote the Lay Review Board of the Diocese of Yakima about this case and asked them to inform the Episcopal Church of Mexico of the molestation and that Ramirez was a risk to children.
11. I received no response from the Lay Review Board chair, Russ Mazolla. In September of 2006, after going on line and learning that Ramirez was still a priest with the Episcopal Church, I sent all the information that I had on Ramirez to the Episcopal bishop of Mexico.
12. In November 2006 Bishop Carlos Porter-Touche called me and then wrote me that Ramirez was permanently suspended as a priest in the Episcopal Church.
Diocesis De Mexico
November 1, 2006
Mr. Robert Fontana
302 N. 27th Avenue
Yakima, WA 98902
Dear Mr. Fontana:
Our Standing Committee (the governing body of an Episcopal Diocese) met twice to discuss the case of the Revd. Aaron Ramirez Lopez, and it has decided that the evidence that you presented was sufficient and that no further investigation is needed. For that reason, it decided to suspend him from the priesthood on a permanent basis, not only temporarily. I am enclosing a copy of our letter to him.
As you probably know, our Church has a worldwide policy of “Zero Tolerance” in cases such as this.
This has been a painful experience for us, given the fact that he had proved to be one of the best priests in our Diocese. Could I ask you to keep him in your prayers so that he might find healing and forgiveness? We are also praying for the young person who was abused, and it is our hope that he has recovered from this traumatic experience as fully as possible.
Thank you so much for providing us with the evidence that I had asked for from Bishop Sevilla and never received.
May God bless you in your personal life and ministry.
Yours in Christ,
The Most Revd. Carlos Touche-Porter
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