Victim: Bishop Had Reason to Know Esquivel Was Dangerous

By Shanna Sissom
May 15, 2003

SAN ANGELO, TEXAS (MRT) - An adult victim of child sexual abuse claims San Angelo Diocese Bishop Michael Pfeifer had reason to believe former Big Lake priest Miguel Esquivel was dangerous to children, according to an affidavit filed in state district court.

"The diocese's failure to take action (caused) my client to suffer more abuse," explained Lori Watson, the civil attorney representing the plaintiff, who is now a 29-year-old woman.

Pfeifer removed Esquivel from ministry in 2002 when allegations surfaced about the plaintiff's abuse between 1987 and 1992 and criminal charges were filed against him.

The West Texas priest's removal happened as the nation's bishops were then facing a national crisis involving widespread reports of child sex abuse at the hands of priests and church cover-ups.

Pfeifer, who sent Esquivel to treatment in 1993 for "inappropriate approaches to women," said he wished the child victim would have come forth back when the abuse was happening.

But, he says, earlier reports in no way involved children.

"It was not pediophilia, it was inappropriate approaches to women. I took him out of ministry until a psychiatrist and psychologist said he could go back, supervised, into ministry," the bishop explained.

Pfeifer said the approaches involved touching and not actual sexual activity.

But Ms. Watson contends her witness approached Pfeifer in 1991, claiming over the phone that Esquivel had abused a child.

"The bishop took her phone call in early 1991," Ms. Watson said and claimed her client's abuse would have ended sooner had Pfeifer taken action when the first alleged report surfaced.

"There is an overlap of approximately a year in time," Ms. Watson explained, calling the alleged delay a "fraudulent concealment and cover-up."

But Pfeifer says he remembers no such phone call in 1991, recalling instead a letter he received in 1993 from the woman.

"I have no recollection of any call from that person our attorney thinks she is mixing up her years since we have no record of that at all," Pfeifer said.

Ms. Watson said she also believes the diocese is withholding information on Esquivel that might help her case and is asking Judge Rae Leifste for access to all records held by the diocese pertaining to Esquivel.

"I am trying to get the diocese to provide a variety of documents, various things they have withheld and I believe some of them involve other complaints to the diocese that Miguel acted inappropriately," she said.

However, Pfeifer said his office has cooperated fully.

"We're not hiding anything," Pfeifer said. "Whatever they've asked for, we have turned over."

Ms. Watson is seeking an unspecified amount of money for physical and emotional damages for her client.

Following the 2002 meeting of the nation's bishops in which a charter to protect children was adapted, Pfeifer returned to his 29-county West Texas diocese and aggressively began meeting with parishioners and the public to discuss ways to protect children from sexual abuse both in and outside the church. Some of these meetings resulted in the formation of new community task forces comprised mainly of secular entities.

Among other things, he also established a diocese board comprised mostly of lay people to review any allegations of abuse within the church.

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