Catholic Priest-teacher Accused of Abuse
By Tim Hull
Courthouse News Service
June 6, 2014
TUCSON (CN) - A Catholic priest who also taught high school took a mentally disabled parishioner to a hotel room, gave him alcohol and sexually assaulted him, the alleged victim claims in court.
Father Richard Zamorano, a former teacher at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, has been suspended from the Diocese of Tucson since the allegations arose in 2012, a spokeswoman for the diocese said.
"He is currently a priest whose ministries are suspended - he is not able to practice any priestly ministries," said Steff Koeneman, director of communications for the Diocese of Tucson.
"It was reported to civic authorities, they were aware of it, they did conduct a criminal investigation, and as far as we know that case was closed," Koeneman added. "But that doesn't determine what the church does. He is still on suspension as far as the church is concerned."
The plaintiff in the civil complaint in Pima County Court claims that the Diocese of Tucson and the Diocese of El Paso knew that Zamorano posed a threat to parishioners but did nothing about it.
Plaintiff J.G., a "vulnerable adult with mental, cognitive and physical disabilities," claims that Zamorano befriended his devout Catholic family after the priest moved to Tucson from the Diocese of El Paso.
"Defendant Father Zamorano became a trusted friend and secular adviser to the plaintiff and his family, who thought defendant Father Zamorano was a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Tucson," the complaint states.
The alleged assault occurred on June 2, 2012, J.G. says.
"Defendant Father Zamorano picked up plaintiff at his home," the complaint states. "Defendant Father Zamorano purchased alcohol for himself and the plaintiff and took the plaintiff to a hotel in Pima County.
"Defendant Father Zamorano purchased a hotel room and took the plaintiff into the room. At the hotel room, Defendant Father Zamorano served plaintiff alcohol and sexually abused/assaulted him."
J.G. says that he reported the incident to the Diocese of Tucson and the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
Pima County Sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Tracy Suitt confirmed that the allegations were investigated and said that "the case was later closed."
Zamorano worked at Salpointe Catholic High School from 2002 to 2012 as a faculty member and priest, a school spokeswoman said. Neither the school nor any of its employees are named in the lawsuit.
The school said in a statement that it suspended Zamorano in 2012 when the allegations surfaced.
"When Salpointe was made aware of claims of misconduct, even though unrelated to Salpointe, Fr. Zamorano was removed from his service at Salpointe pending the investigation," the school said, adding that Zamorano had served "with professionalism and competence."
J.G. claims that the Diocese of Tucson and the Diocese of El Paso, where Zamorano was ordained, should have protected him from Zamorano, and should have told parishioners about the priest's alleged "proclivity" for sexual abuse.
"Defendants Diocese of Tucson and Diocese of El Paso did not notify parishioners, other individuals and vulnerable adults that defendant Father Zamorano had multiple leaves of absences, nor did they warn parishioners, other individuals or vulnerable adults about defendant Father Zamorano's proclivity to sexually abuse and risk of harm to parishioners like plaintiff," the complaint states.
Koeneman said that the Diocese of Tucson would not comment on the allegations other than to say that it followed the proper procedures and protocols.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of El Paso was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
J.G. sued Zamorano individually, along with the Diocese of Tucson, the Diocese of El Paso and the Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso. He alleges vicarious liability, negligence, malpractice, intentional and negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, endangerment, vulnerable adult abuse, assault and battery, and sexual abuse.
He is represented by Thomas Langan of the Udall Law Firm in Tucson. Langan was out of town and unavailable for an interview this week.