Franciscans Settle Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Involving Director at Rosemead University
By Juliette Funes and Maritza Velazquez
Whittier Daily News
July 7, 2012
[with court document]
|University of the West in Rosemead on Friday, July 6. The director of student life at the University of the West has been named in two now-settled child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits. (Watchara Phomicinda / Staff Photographer)|
Franciscan Friars of California and the Diocese of Las Vegas have settled a lawsuit that alleged a student activities director at the University of the West sexually abused children while a member of the Roman Catholic order nearly 30 years ago.
Thomas Thing, 53, director of student life for the Rosemead Buddhist university, was sued last year by a Nevada resident who accused the former Catholic Franciscan brother of molesting and sexually assaulting him in the mid-1980s when he was in seventh grade.
Tim Coonce, now 38, settled the civil suit for $600,000.
Thing has never been charged with a crime. He declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday. His attorney, Robert Howie, said Thing denies the allegations.
"Tom has never admitted or failed to fight these allegations. He has denied them completely," Howie said. "Basically, the institutions are settling these cases because they just don't want to deal with them because there's such a prejudice against them in the community."
It was the second sexual abuse lawsuit Thing has been named in, according to court documents. The first lawsuit naming Thing as a sexual predator was filed in 1993 and was also settled out of court, court documents show.
By the time alleged victims came forward, the statute of limitations had expired, said Coonce's attorney, Tim Hale.
"By keeping things secret and not reporting this to law enforcement, the victims are the only people who have any knowledge," Hale said.
The most recent settlement agreement requires that the Santa Barbara-based Franciscans - which the suit accused of having a long history of covering up child abuse - release Thing's personnel files within 30 days.
Representatives from the Santa Barbara Franciscans did not return calls for comment.
Joelle Casteix, the western regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she wants to see Thing removed from his position at University of the West.
"Survivors can't heal unless they can work to make sure what happened to them doesn't happen to another child," said Casteix, whose organization is aimed at raising awareness and helping victims of abuse through support and networking.
Arthur Peterson, University of the West's dean of student affairs, said he was unaware of the lawsuits involving Thing. He did say that Thing is a former Franciscan Friar.
"I don't know about those cases," said Peterson, who declined to comment further.
According to the University of the West website, Thing was hired in 2010 as director of student life. The position includes coordinating co-curricular activities for students, including housing and orientation. It's unknown if he interacts with minors.
In 1993, Charles Larson, then 25, filed a lawsuit against the Franciscan order and the archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging that several priests, including Thing, sexually abused him over nine years, from 1976 to 1985, while a student at St. Anthony's Seminary in Santa Barbara.
In the suit, Larson accused Thing of rubbing his back and buttocks during a 1985 camping trip while they slept next to one another in sleeping bags.
That lawsuit was settled out of court. The terms of the settlement were not available.
In the most recent lawsuit, Coonce alleged that Thing fondled and touched him inappropriately while he was a student at St. Christopher's Elementary School in Las Vegas.
The suit alleges that while on a camping trip, Thing, who was transferred to Las Vegas after the alleged Santa Barbara incident, "induced (Coonce) to enter his sleeping bag naked and then sexually assaulted the boy."
Another sexual assault took place on a camping trip where there was forced oral copulation, according to the lawsuit.
Hale said Coonce was prompted to come forward after discovering that Thing was not in the sex offender registry in Nevada or California since he was never charged.
"It's a failure to report these guys ... that creates a horrible situation for today's children," Hale said.
In May, the Santa Barbara Franciscans released the confidential files of nine clergy members and priests accused of sexual abuse as part of a 2006 settlement agreement in which the religious order paid out $28 million to alleged victims.
The documents, which were released after the defendants fought the case all the way to the California Supreme Court, outline details of the alleged sexual abuse and are considered the largest release of a religious order's confidential files in history.
Thing's personnel documents are not included in those files. Under the latest settlement agreement, the Franciscans have until the end of the month to release them.