Archdiocese Goes on Trial in Abuse Case
By Abe Levy
San Antonio Express-News
June 17, 2012
Jury selection begins today in the Bexar County trial of a lawsuit accusing the Archdiocese of San Antonio of covering up a former priest's sexual abuse of an altar boy in Floresville in the mid-1970s.
Louis Paul White repeatedly sexually abused a then-12-year-old boy, the lawsuit claims, chiding the Catholic hierarchy for waiting until 1989 to defrock White and until only three years ago to publicize his name as an accused child molester.
White, now 69, was an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Floresville from 1976 to 1977, when the alleged abuse took place. The lawsuit claims that he molested the boy in White's bedroom, a shop at the rectory and the church itself — up to three times a week for six months.
The claims in the lawsuit follow the story line of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal nationwide, in which bishops transferred pedophile priests from parish to parish, which produced more victims along the way. U.S. bishops enacted a landmark policy in 2002 to foster greater accountability in light of mounting media reports and public criticism.
Lawyers for the alleged victim, now 48, filed the lawsuit in November 2010, seeking unspecified damages. He remains anonymous in court filings.
White, who has not been criminally charged, has no lawyer and is representing himself in the case. He declined comment through an intermediary at his residence in Kirby.
The archdiocese did not publicly connect him to molestation allegations until March 2009, when it sent notices to 15 parishes where he had worked. It acknowledged receiving accusations that White and two other priests sexually abused a teen between 1978 and 1982 while they were assigned to San Fernando Cathedral.
The archdiocese said White was accused of abusing that teen about 1981 and was removed permanently from the priesthood for undisclosed reasons in 1989. The day after the notices went out, an archdiocesan official called the accusations "believable" in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News.
The notices did not mention the accuser in the lawsuit, which states the archdiocese knew about other boys molested by White before and after his tenure at Sacred Heart and failed to report these allegations to law enforcement officials. It also accused the archdiocese of altering or destroying documents unfavorable to its defense.
The archdiocese reported two years ago that it received 58 accusations of abuse against 20 priests out of a total of 2,113 priests serving from 1950 to 2002 and had paid more than $5.2 million in settlements.
Asked about the lawsuit claims, a spokesman for the archdiocese issued a written response:
"As a matter of policy, the archdiocese does not comment regarding ongoing litigation. At this time, as the opening of the court proceedings nears, it would be inappropriate to respond to media inquiries about the case."
The Bexar County district attorney's office received a complaint in 2005 accusing White of indecency with a child, but the office later dropped the case for lack of evidence, said First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg. The criminal statute of limitations has expired for any accusations of sex abuse from the 1970s, he said.
Central to the lawsuit has been the question of whether to lift the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits. The alleged victim's attorneys have argued that the lawsuit can proceed because their client suppressed the memory for years but realized he had been abused when the archdiocese circulated notices at Sacred Heart in March 2009 about White's alleged abuse at San Fernando.
The lawsuit says the victim was an altar boy and student at the Sacred Heart parish school, where White befriended him, intervening to stop bullies from beating him up and later giving him sacramental wine during the alleged abuse.
The boy told the school principal, identified in the lawsuit as "Sister Anne," that he wanted to stop being an altar server for White but that she beat him and ordered him to keep up those duties, the lawsuit states.
White's superiors must have known of his sexual disorder, the lawsuit says. Sacred Heart's then-pastor, Father Joseph Hybner, entered White's bedroom after a sexual assault of the boy and "yelled" at and "scolded" White, who soon was transferred to another parish, the lawsuit states.