Accord Reached in Church Sex-assault Lawsuit
By Abe Levy
San Antonio Express-News
January 8, 2013
The Archdiocese of San Antonio and a Floresville man who claimed he was 12 when his priest began to molest him in the late 1970s have reached an out-of-court settlement.
The agreement, whose terms were not disclosed, ends more than two years of litigation against the archdiocese.
Also named in the lawsuit was Louis Paul White, whom the Vatican had removed from the priesthood in 1989.
When he didn't appear in court Monday for the start of a trial, state District Judge Cathleen Stryker issued a nearly $181 million default judgment against him.
Observers said the prospects of collecting the judgment were slim but it sent a strong message of backing the Floresville man's account.
White, who had represented himself against the suit, could not be reached for comment. Other parties to the suit said they had no idea where he was. He had been living with friends at a house in Kirby last June, according to people there who answered the door.
The suit accused the archdiocese of covering up what it described as White's repeated sexual assault of the boy, as often as three times a week, from 1976 to 1977 in the parish of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wilson County. White was an associate priest at Sacred Heart at that time.
The archdiocese denied all wrongdoing. Deacon Pat Rodgers, its spokesman, cited the victim's request for privacy in declining comment.
The victim is in his mid-40s and declined comment through his attorneys.
When the archdiocese first publicly named White in March 2009 as the target of “believable” accusations of sexual assault against a male teen, it did not refer to the Floresville man. It included him in notices along with two other priests accused of sexual assault, Father Larry Hernandez and Father David Zumaya.
The notices, published in the bulletins of 15 parishes where the three had served, urged anyone with concerns to contact the archdiocese.
White's Floresville parish was not included in the initial posting but was later added with an explanation that it had been “inadvertently omitted.”
Vatican and U.S. Catholic officials have condemned the cover-ups of the sex abuse scandal that swept the church and erupted in the United States more than a decade ago and adopted safety measures. They continue to face lawsuits and skeptics unconvinced that they have fully addressed the past.
The San Antonio archdiocese reports 23 priests have been accused credibly of sexual misconduct with a minor since 1950. It also reports paying out settlements since then of more than $6.67 million, not including the recent, undisclosed agreement.
The lawsuit said the Floresville man had been a trusting altar boy and student in the parish school and had suppressed memories of the abuse for years. It wasn't until the archdiocese began to notify parishes about White that a connection surfaced, the suit says, arguing for an exception to the statute of limitations in the case.
At one point after the assaults began, the church pastor, Father Joseph Hybner, walked in on the pair as they were dressing after a sexual encounter in White's bedroom and Hybner “yelled” and “scolded” White, the suit claims. White was transferred shortly after, it states.
The Floresville man likely feels validated now that a judge sided with him, said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“It's hard to state how important that is, when anyone in authority says you were deeply wronged,” Clohessy said. “Maybe it's asking too much, but it would be really comforting to see church officials do the right thing right out of the box, rather than be forced into a settlement at the 11th hour because they're deeply fearful of what secrets will emerge in trial.”