Catholic Molestation Trial Begins to Pick Jurors

Fresno Bee
March 12, 2009

Jury selection began this morning in the Fresno County Superior Court civil trial of two brothers who contend a Catholic priest allegedly molested them when they were children.

George and Howard Santillan allege that from 1959 through 1973 they were sexual abused by Monsignor Anthony Herdegen, a priest in their hometown Catholic parish in Wasco. The parish is under the auspice of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Fresno, or the Diocese of Fresno.

Church officials have argued that the Diocese was unaware of any unlawful sexual conduct by Herdegen.

The witness list in Judge Donald Black’s courtroom reads like a who’s who — Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop John Quinn and Bishop John T. Steinbock.

The brothers sued the diocese in 2003 under the one-year window that voided the statute of limitations on old abuse claims in California. They contend negligent hiring, supervision or retention of Herdegen, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

To prevail, the brothers must prove that the church knew or should have known about the priest's alleged misconduct.

Mahony, now head of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, was a high-level administrator in the Fresno diocese during some of the years the two brothers say they were molested by Herdegen. Mahony testified in a deposition that a housekeeper who might have known about Herdegen's abuse would have been expected to tell church higher-ups.

Initially, the brothers’ lawsuit was dismissed because the trial court agreed with the diocese that there was no evidence that the diocese had any knowledge of abuse by Herdegen.

But a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled last May that Mahony's deposition testimony indicates the church was or should have been aware that Herdegen might have been an abuser. The appellate court also said the priest's housekeeper apparently knew of the misconduct, although she did not speak of it before her death.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6434.


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