Sex-abuse Expert Testifies in Yakima Diocese Trial
By Donald W. Meyers
March 14 2014
An expert on sex abuse within the Catholic Church testified Thursday that the Diocese of Yakima failed to properly supervise a deacon accused of raping a man when he was a teen in 1999.
“(The supervision) wasn’t there,” said psychotherapist Richard Sipe. “They didn’t know what was going on, and they didn’t require accountability.”
But an attorney representing the diocese challenged Sipe’s credibility, producing documents showing that then-Bishop Carlos Sevilla advised an Episcopal bishop in Mexico that former Deacon Aaron Ramirez had sexually abused a 17-year-old in Zillah.
“Your statement that Bishop Sevilla failed to provide information is not accurate,” attorney Ted Buck said in one of the trial’s more testy exchanges.
The diocese is being sued in U.S. District Court before Judge Edward Shea for $3.1 million by a man identified in court records as John Doe, who says he was repeatedly raped by Ramirez at a Zillah parish in July 1999.
Doe argues in his lawsuit that the diocese failed to properly screen Ramirez when he applied to be a candidate for the priesthood in 1998, and failed to supervise him as he worked as a deacon.
Sipe said it was a generally accepted procedure in the 1990s to get letters of recommendation for priesthood candidates coming to a diocese.
Ramirez’s application has gone missing, diocese officials say, but argue it must have existed at the time because they would never have admitted Ramirez without it. One of Ramirez’s religious orders in Mexico said he had been kicked out before coming to Yakima, and that if anyone had asked, they would have given Ramirez a negative recommendation, according to a document filed with the court.
That, Sipe said, is a deal-breaker, and should have at least sparked more inquiry as to why Ramirez was booted from the order.
Sipe also questioned the amount of supervision over Ramirez, who was ordained a deacon within eight months of arriving in Yakima and only lived with parish priests on weekends. During the week, he stayed at a church-owned house in Toppenish, where he and other seminarians were studying English at then-Heritage College.
Sipe said priesthood candidates usually need strict supervision for about three years because of the demands of celibacy, which Sipe, a former priest, said denies human nature.
But on cross examination, Buck hammered Sipe on the fact that he could not compare the diocese’s rate of sex abuse with that of the Yakima or Zillah school districts, or even the state Department of Social and Health Services division of Child Protective Services.
Buck said a John Jay College study found that, nationally, Catholic priests are either as likely or less likely to be abusers than the average person.
Buck also challenged Sipe’s claim that Sevilla did not share information about the attack with Episcopal Bishop Carlos Touche-Porte, who had installed Ramirez as a priest in his diocese.
In a July 6, 2005, letter that Buck produced, Sevilla told his Episcopal colleague that Ramirez had “sexually abused” a teen and fled to Mexico.
On July 27, 2005, Touche-Porte replied that the charge was “worrisome” and wanted all the records, including police reports, on the incident.
But Sevilla told Touche-Porte on Aug. 3, 2005, that while the victim’s family had gone to the police, Ramirez’s decision to flee to Mexico effectively closed the case. He noted that Ramirez had been defrocked as a deacon as a result of the incident.
Sipe said he was only aware of the Episcopal bishop’s plea for information.
“If I saw the letters, I don’t remember them,” Sipe said.
Sipe is expected to take the stand again Tuesday, when the case continues. Sevilla also is expected to continue testifying Tuesday.
Doe’s foster sister testified Thursday that Doe was a popular high school athlete before the incident, which occurred in a trailer at Resurrection Catholic Church in Zillah. Diocese officials subsequently described the incident as sexual abuse and sexual assault, although court documents show Ramirez called it “mutual masturbation.”
Afterward, he became withdrawn, started drinking and became suicidal, the foster sister testified.
“John Doe looked like someone had torn his soul from him,” the foster sister said, describing when she first saw Doe at the Zillah Police Department after the attack. “He did not look like the John Doe who was my best friend.”
The foster sister, who is a year younger than Doe, subsequently had a child with him after he finished high school. She said he tried killing himself on several occasions, and his drinking led to two DUI arrests and their separation. She said Doe would take off running when he would get drunk, sometimes for many miles.
Buck asked the foster sister if her father felt Doe had betrayed him by getting her pregnant, but she said she didn’t know. Buck also questioned her if she became pregnant during wrestling season, implying that pending fatherhood might have caused Doe’s problems in wrestling.
The foster sister said she and Doe didn’t know she was pregnant until May, when she was six months into the pregnancy.