Trial date set for Brownsville Catholic diocese sexual assault case

BROWNSVILLE (TX) [Harlingen, TX]

February 4, 2022

By Nathaniel Puente

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville will face trial in May for the alleged sexual assault one priest inflicted on two children in the 1980s.

On Thursday, a Cameron County judge set a trial date of May 16 for a lawsuit between two unidentified people against the diocese.

The lawsuit was first filed in March 2019. The plaintiffs claim that Father Benedicto Ortiz sexually assaulted the two children from 1982 to 1985 while he was the priest of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Brownsville and St. Anne Mother of Mary in Pharr.

The victims claim Ortiz had the two children sleep with him five days a week at the rectory where the abuse occurred. The victim’s mother allowed the children to move in because she believed they were in a safe environment, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Ortiz would provide the children drugs, expose himself to the children, force them to perform oral sex on him, and watch him masturbate while at the Our Lady of Guadalupe rectory.

The then diocese bishop, John Fitzpatrick, was aware that the two children were living with Ortiz and transferred him to be the priest of St. Anne Mother of Mary where the two children moved with him.

This continued for three years under Fitzpatrick’s approval until he ordered it to not continue in 1985, according to the lawsuit. However, even after this order, Ortiz continued to take the children to trips to South Padre Island where he would perform additional sexual abuse.

The lawsuit charges the diocese with failing to protect the children in this situation and allowing this to continue for multiple years. Additionally, the victims claim there was a conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse done by Ortiz by the massive suppression and minimization of public knowledge on similar abuse done by Catholic priests.

With these factors considered, the plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified exemplary damage total for this issue.

The diocese argues that the statute of limitations has run out on the case directly against Ortiz so the plaintiffs are instead looking to undermine the whole diocese. They believe the lawsuit is ineligible and should have been filed at the latest 1995.

Diocese leaders do not deny the abuse occurred, however, and only seek to throw out the lawsuit based on the statute of limitations.

In 2019, Ortiz was listed as one of the 13 clergymen the diocese stated had credible allegations of sexually abusing minors before 2002. Ortiz died in 2011 at the age of 80.