Corona Priest Wants Suit to Help Set a Precedent

By Dave Downey
Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
January 14, 1995

The priest who was removed from a Corona Catholic church for alleged sexual misconduct said he gave marriage counseling to the man who accused him but denies any wrongdoing during the sessions.

Father Anthony Garduno said he did not ask the man to strip to show his genitals, as Garduno is alleged to have done, or anything like that.

"It did not happen," Garduno said.

Garduno, 36, filed a lawsuit Dec. 28 against St. Edward's Catholic Church, the Diocese of San Bernardino and several church and diocese officials over their handling of the allegations. In the lawsuit, the former associate pastor at St. Edward's alleges negligence, slander, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress on the part of church officials.

Among other things, the suit says officials spread word about the allegations and removed him without thoroughly investigating the charges, and forced Garduno to sign a statement.

"Another reason for my taking these measures is to help set a precedent so that this incident does not occur to another priest again," Garduno said.

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, said Garduno "was and continues to be treated with sincerity, kindness and fairness. "

The lawsuit seeks to recover unspecified lost earnings, compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

Garduno said the man who made the allegations in December 1993 was going through the process of becoming a church member at the time. Garduno said he was not involved in that process.

"My role was helping a couple prepare for marriage," Garduno said. He said he was counseling the man about his plans to marry.

Garduno said he held two counseling sessions with the man, one lasting about 10 minutes and the other lasting about 20 minutes.

Garduno said "I know exactly why" the man made the allegation of misconduct, but declined to elaborate.

The lawsuit asserts that the man's brother-in-law threatened to make the misconduct allegation about Garduno public if the man was not allowed to marry.

Garduno said he had recommended against marriage. "I had questions about their reasons for marrying," he said.

According to a national support group based in Chicago, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, cases in which priests facing sexual abuse allegations sue the church are very rare.

David Clohessy, national director for the group, said it is much more common for priests to make "canon law" challenges against decisions through the Roman Catholic Church's internal legal system.

Garduno said he has made several appeals of the action taken against him by the San Bernardino diocese and has failed at every point, including an appeal to a church institution in Rome.

"My recent suit comes only after a year of waiting for a positive response from the Diocese of San Bernardino," he said. "I have exhausted all possible means of appeal within the institutional church. "

Garduno, an Indian living in Home Gardens with his father and a family he is not related to, said he wants to return to the ministry.

"They've let other priests who have done worse actions" back into parishes, he said.

"I hope to receive unpaid wages and get back to where everything was at until I was interrupted, whether in this diocese or elsewhere," he said. Garduno said he would "love to" return to St. Edward's. "I love the people there. " But, he said, "the people don't have a voice and they have learned that. If the people had a voice, I'd be back. "

He said he has not been attending church services. Instead, Garduno said he serves himself Mass every morning.

Lincoln, the diocese spokesman, said the parishioners do have a say in decisions regarding priests. Lincoln said diocese officials accepted petitions presented last spring by St. Edward's parishioners for Garduno's restoration. "We certainly have listened," he said.

Lincoln said Garduno remains on administrative leave with his full salary of $ 1,157 a month - the standard rate for priests in the diocese, which takes in Riverside County. Lincoln said Garduno also still is paid $ 900 a year in car insurance, $ 6,600 in health and pension benefits, and $ 700 a year in education and retreat allowance, as are other priests.

But Garduno said he is not receiving the food stipend and housing that was provided for him while at St. Edward's, which is worth about $ 1,000 a month.

Lincoln said, "He was offered a residency which would have afforded him room and board, and the privacy, the space and the time to deal with the events that had arisen. He opted to live with his father. "

Garduno said the place he was offered is a church home in Cherry Valley for retiring priests and "wounded priests" who are overcoming problems. "I refused to go to Cherry Valley and ended up going to be with my father. " Lincoln declined comment on what Garduno was offered.

Lincoln said Garduno's future is uncertain, but he said "absolutely no action" has been taken by the diocese to remove him from the priesthood. Such a move is rare, and requires action by church authorities in Rome.


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