Sex Abuse Lawsuit Filed against Catholic Diocese
By Jane Gargas
October 25, 2017
|Gustavo Gomez Santos has been removed from active ministry, according to the Diocese of Yakima, and Bishop Joseph Tyson is asking the Vatican to have him "removed from the clerical state." (Courtesy: Yakima Diocese)|
A lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a minor was filed against the Catholic Diocese of Yakima in Superior Court on Tuesday.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a young man who said that the Rev. Gustavo Gomez Santos abused him at St. Juan Diego Catholic Church in Cowiche in 2012 when the alleged victim was 16 or 17 years old.
Last May, after the young man reported the abuse to the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, Gomez was permanently removed from public ministry by Bishop Joseph Tyson.
The lawsuit claims that the Diocese of Yakima knew or should have known that Gomez posed a danger to children but failed to take steps to prevent him from using his position as a Diocesan priest to sexually abuse the plaintiff.
The lawsuit, filed by the plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Pfau of Seattle, did not name the amount of monetary damages being sought.
Gomez has denied that any abuse occurred.
The plaintiff, a former Mattawa resident who now lives in King County, alleged that he was fondled by Gomez while he attended confirmation classes at St. Juan Diego Parish in Cowiche, where Gomez was pastor. He claimed that the priest used his position to groom and to sexually abuse him. He said the priest frequently gave him massages and subsequently sexually assaulted him in the parish rectory.
Although Tyson removed Gomez from ministry last spring — at the time he was serving as pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Granger — the bishop is taking further steps to have him laicized, which means he can never serve as a priest again. Tyson’s formal recommendation will be sent to the Vatican in Rome in several weeks, said Monsignor Robert Siler, chancellor of the diocese.
“The bishop determined with moral certitude that abuse happened and has acted accordingly,” Siler said.
In addition, Gomez violated the diocese’s code of conduct, including giving alcohol to minors, giving and receiving massages to and from minors, giving them expensive gifts, including trips to Disneyland, and allowing them to stay overnight in his residence in several parishes, the diocese determined last spring.
No other victims have reported being abused by Gomez to the diocese, Siler said. “If there are other victims, we encourage them to come forward as well.”
The diocese sexual abuse reporting hotline is: 1-888-276-4490.
Pfau, the plaintiff’s attorney, believes there will be additional abuse claims. “When we see someone with a history like Father Santos (Gomez), it is likely that more people will come forward with similar stories,” he said in a statement.
Gomez, 52, who is from Guadalajara, Mexico, was ordained in Yakima in 2002. He has served in five other parishes in the diocese in addition to Cowiche and Granger: Grandview, Mabton, East Wenatchee, Benton City and Mattawa.
Siler said the sheriff’s office determined that it wouldn’t be able to prosecute the case due to the statute of limitations, which is two years for a charge of second degree sexual misconduct with a minor. Last June, Siler initially reported that the criminal charge would have been forcible fondling, but that was incorrect.
The plaintiff is receiving counseling, Siler said.
“We very much regret that abuse occurred, and we thank the victim for his courage in coming forward,” Siler said.
• Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or firstname.lastname@example.org