Sex-Abuse Plaintiff Speaks out

By Linda Hughes-Kirchubel
Record [Stockton CA]
November 15, 2003

A Stockton man spoke out Friday about the lawsuit he has filed against the Roman Catholic Church's Stockton Diocese, saying the abuse drove him to drugs and alcohol and contributed to the downfall of his marriage.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with a representative of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Luis Godinez said the abuse took place at the hands of the late Fernando Villalobos, a Franciscan priest who served at St. Mary's of the Assumption and as the chief of Spanish ministries in the diocese.

"I have suffered greatly in silence for a very long time," Godinez said. "I have been disgraced and humiliated to say the least, and as a result of the abuse have had to deal with alcohol and drug abuse throughout my life."

Godinez, who once considered joining the priesthood, left a seminary after eight months. An insurance adjuster, he is married, though he and his wife are separated.

Godinez said the abuse began in 1980, when he was 12 years old. He said Villalobos had been a family friend and attempted to molest his brother just months before Villalobos died while out of the country.

Villalobos died in 1985. He served under then-Bishop Roger Mahony, now Archbishop of the Los Angeles Diocese. Mahony is not specifically named in the suit, said Joe George, Godinez's attorney.

Godinez said he told no one about the abuse while it was happening.

"I was 12, 13, 14, 15 at the time," he said. "Children of that age don't have the capacity to go against authority. You don't tell anybody if that person is telling you, 'Don't tell.' "

Godinez claims the abuse took place at two different houses that Villalobos rented, one in south Stockton and one in the Quail Lakes' area. "As a result," the lawsuit says, "numerous diocesan employees observed excessive and inappropriate attention (Villalobos) paid to (Godinez)."

When diocesan officials learned of Villalobos' conduct, the lawsuit states, the diocese and its leaders endorsed Villalobos' conduct "by failing to report him to law enforcement authorities, failing to notify police, prosecution, parishioners and the laity."

Bishop Stephen Blaire released a statement that stated Godinez has not directly contacted the diocese.

"While we are not able to comment further on this matter," Blaire's statement said, "we are committed to bring healing to all who have suffered the trauma of sexual abuse."

Paul Balestracci, an attorney for the diocese, declined to comment on the suit.

"Nothing has changed. We've not seen the lawsuit," he said. "The lawsuit gives us an opportunity to follow up on the facts of the case through a formal process."

Godinez was flanked by his attorney and Fairfield resident Nancy Sloan, who in February filed a similar lawsuit against the diocese, naming former Lodi priest Oliver O'Grady as her abuser. Sloan heads the local chapter of SNAP, a self-help organization of survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

In 1999, the Stockton Diocese agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by brothers James and Joh Howard, who were molested by O'Grady. A San Joaquin County jury awarded them $29.5 million.

She questioned how Blaire has handled her lawsuit. While he encouraged victims to file lawsuits, she said, he has authorized diocese attorneys to fight them.

"I think that's talking out of both sides of your mouth," she said.

Balestracci declined to respond to Sloan's statements.

"Ms. Sloan has a pending lawsuit, and it would not be fair or responsible of me to discuss that lawsuit in the press," he said.

Both Godinez and Sloan filed their lawsuits under a state law that temporarily suspends the statute of limitations for such cases. The law expires at the end of the year.

"Dec. 31 is the deadline under the current law, ... which lifts the one-year statute of limitations," Sloan said. "I strongly urge (other victims) to come forward now. There's only six weeks left."

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