Largest-Ever Settlement Reached in Sex Abuse Case Involving Notorious California Priest

Catholic Vote [Madison, WI]

January 30, 2024

By Madalaine Elhabbal

The Diocese of Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles have agreed to pay a combined settlement believed to be the largest ever in a sex abuse case filed on behalf of an individual against a religious institution. 

The case involving two of the most notorious sex predators in California reached a $10-million settlement on Friday, January 26, according to a local report from East Bay Times.

The case focuses primarily on the sexual crimes of Fr. Eleuterio Ramos and Fr. Siegfried Widera. 

In 2020, a piece of California legislation provided a three-year window during which the state would lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits regarding decades-old sex abuse cases. This week’s settlement resolves one of the first suits to go to trial since 2020. 

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Ramos first began committing sexual assault on minors almost immediately following his ordination, will pay out $500,000, while the Diocese of Orange will pay the larger sum of $9.5 million.

Ramos sexually assaulted the plaintiff when he was just five years old, according to the victim’s sworn testimony, and Widera later assaulted the same child when he was ten.

Most of the abuse took place under the Diocese of Orange’s jurisdiction after it split from the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1976. 

Diocese of Orange Spokesman Jarryd Gonzales told East Bay Times:

While we do not comment on settlement details, it is important to note that the allegations in this case date back more than 40 years and do not reflect the Diocese of Orange as it stands today nor capture our extensive efforts over the past two decades to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults and prevent future abuse. 

In response to the settlement, former investigative journalist Gustavo Arellano of the LA Times described his experience reporting on Ramos’ abuse as his “cross to bear.” 

“Long after my regular coverage petered out,” Arellano wrote in a column, “Ramos remains in my life.”

Arellano’s extensive report published in late 2005 covers the decades-long history of the horrific sex abuse Ramos inflicted on more than 25 minor boys, along with the Orange Diocese’s role in covering it up. 

Again, from Arellano:

Personal files showed that the Orange diocese removed Ramos from Immaculate Heart of Mary [a parish he served at in 1979] and sent him to a Massachusetts recovery facility for Catholic priests—for alleged alcoholism.

Arellano’s report notes that Ramos “continued to proposition boys” while he was at the facility. 

The diocese relocated Ramos to another parish even though the counselor at the facility recommended Ramos be removed from active ministry. 

The diocese would continue to move Ramos from parish to parish for the next ten years, until Orange Diocese Bishop William Johnson tearfully persuaded a Tijuana Bishop to take the disgraced priest. Though Ramos was forbidden to minister in the states again, according to Arellano’s report, the Tijuanna bishop put the priest in charge of a children’s ministry.

The Orange Diocese would finally begin to address Ramos’ abuses in the 1990s, settling five abuse cases against him. 

Accusations against Ramos mounted in late 2003, after one of Ramos’ victims was able to record the former priest admitting to his abuse. Ramos died in March 2004 with 11 lawsuits filed against him pending. 

In its statement, the Diocese of Orange wrote that it “deeply regrets any past incidences of sexual abuse,” adding: “we remain unwavering in our commitment to protecting children and vulnerable adults and supporting those suffering.”