Diocese Takes Its Case to Tribunal

By Jennifer Garza
Sacramento Bee
September 17, 2008

In an unusual move, the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento has asked a church tribunal to settle a three-year $1.5 million dispute with a religious order.

That's how much money the diocese believes the Western Dominican Province based in Oakland should pay for the actions of the Rev. Jerome Henson, a priest with the order.

Henson worked at St. Dominic's Church in Benecia in early 1980s. He is accused of molesting a 13-year-old former altar boy in a Benicia cemetery in 1981. He is also accused of molesting another boy.

"It's been three years of discussion, and there hasn't been a lot of movement," said Kevin Eckery, diocesan spokesman. "The bishop feels strongly that since this was a Dominican priest, then they (the order) should take responsibility and step up."

In 2005, the diocese agreed to pay $35 million to 33 victims of sexual abuse. Two of those claims involved Henson.

Citing confidentiality agreements, officials could not disclose the amount of those claims other than saying they were "significant."

Eckery said the diocese and the insurance company for the Dominican order have each paid part of the claim. The diocese said the order should pay the remaining $1.5 million.

"I am just not free to absolve the Dominicans of their full responsibility for their actions of their members," said Bishop William Weigand in a statement.

Officials with the religious order declined to comment. "It's an issue of confidentiality that we feel we cannot discuss while the case is being adjudicated," said the Rev. Mark Padrez.

Henson was serving in the Orange County diocese when the Sacramento area allegations surfaced in 2002.

He was removed from the ministry.

Eckery said it while it is unusual for the diocese to go to a tribunal, "it's not unheard of, and that's unfortunate."

The case, called a "libellus" under church law, was filed this week with the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The case is set to be heard in October.



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