Salinas Priest, Monterey Diocese Face Lawsuit

By Virginia Hennessey
Monterey County Herald
August 2, 2011

A teenager who was molested by a Salinas priest is suing the disgraced pastor and the Roman Catholic bishop of Monterey, alleging the assaults led him to two suicide attempts.

"John Doe," 18, is asking for unspecified damages for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the bishop and the Rev. Antonio Cortes, former pastor of St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Salinas.

Cortes is serving a one-year jail sentence after pleading no contest to engaging in sodomy with the boy, then 16, as well as possession of child pornography and misdemeanor charges including child molestation and furnishing alcohol to a minor.

He could be released before Christmas and is expected to be deported to Mexico then defrocked, though that canon law process may be time-consuming.

The lawsuit does not name Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia, who has led the diocese since January 2007, but alleges negligent hiring and supervision by the diocese, which was "fully aware of the rampant abuse of youth by Catholic priests, as it had been receiving complaints about such abuse for decades."

While it does not allege other instances of abuse by Cortes, it notes the diocese shuffled the priest between four parishes in the 15 years after he came to Monterey County from Mexico.

Diocese attorney Susan Mayer and spokesman Warren Hoy did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

It was in the Greenfield parish in 2006 that Cortes first befriended the boy and began giving him "spiritual massages." The boy's family moved four months later, but the priest and his young parishioner were reunited in 2008 when Cortes was transferred again to St. Mary's in Salinas.

The priest resumed his spiritual massages, giving the boy alcohol after each session. On April 14, 2009, the "outrageous conduct" escalated to the point of sodomy, the suit alleges. Cortes' defense attorneys maintained the priest remained partially clothed throughout the incident and there was no skin to skin contact.

The boy was so distraught when he told a teacher the next day, he had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment. Police arrested Cortes and searched his home and electronic equipment where they found photos of young Latino boys and both adult and child pornography.

According to the lawsuit, text messages on Cortes' phone indicated he had sought sex from one or more male prostitutes.

While the diocese suspended Cortes' as a priest and pastor, the victim's attorney, Charles Warner of Monterey, said, it "is continuing to provide benefits to him." A presentencing probation report indicated the diocese has paid Cortes $2,500 a month.

"The horrific abuse that was perpetrated upon (the victim) has had an enormous impact on his life and has caused him immeasurable pain and suffering," Warner wrote in his lawsuit, filed July 11. "The abuse ... is particularly reprehensible because (the boy) trusted Father Cortes and thought of him not just as a priest, but also a friend.

The effect of the abuse over the years led the boy to fall behind in school, Warner said, and robbed him of his dream to graduate with his high school class. He was not given his diploma until after a final semester of summer school.

He has twice tried to kill himself and continues to experience severe depression, flashbacks and anxiety attacks that leave him confined mostly to his home, the attorney said.

"He fears his life will never be the same and that he will never be the good-natured, trusting person he once was."

In the face a well-chronicled history of child sexual abuse by priests, both locally and around the world, the diocese in 2004 implemented its "Safe Environment Program," to provide a "loving, secure environment for the children by establishing clearly defined safeguards, procedures and policies for their care and protection."

Warner asserts that the program was little more than a public relations attempt to boost the church's sagging image. While it provided for fingerprinting of priests, it set forth no provisions for actually supervising or monitoring clergy who were "obviously unfit to serve around children."


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