|Jury: Church Not Liable in Alleged Priest Molestation
April 3, 2009
A Fresno jury ruled in favor of the Fresno Catholic Diocese in a civil suit where it was accused of covering up sexual abuse.
Brothers George and Howard Santillan had asked jurors to find the Fresno Catholic Diocese responsible for covering up years of abuse, primarily alleged abuse that occurred in Wasco during the 1950s and beyond.
Here is the full text of the statement by the Fresno Diocese on the verdict:
STATEMENT OF BISHOP STEINBOCK REGARDING SANTILLAN VERDICT
Roman Catholic Bishop comments on Defense Verdict after Jury Trial
After nearly three weeks of motions and a trial, the jury which decided the lawsuit filed by George and Howard Santillan returned its verdict today, April 3, 2009. The jury made a Special Finding that the Diocese of Fresno had no knowledge that Monsignor Anthony Herdegen was abusing the Santillans while he served as pastor of St. John's parish in Wasco from 1959 to 1977.
While gratified over the jury's action, Bishop Steinbock expressed regret that Msgr. Herdegen had abused the Santillans, even though the diocese learned that they were abused years after it occurred.
Bishop Steinbock emphasized that if even one child is sexually abused, that is one child too many.
Child sexual abuse afflicts all of society, and no community or institution is free from its effects—even the Church. When Bishop Steinbock learned in 2002 that the Santillans had been abused, he sent a special representative to investigate the allegations, and to offer counseling to the victims.
He also suspended Monsignor Herdegen's faculties to serve as a priest. That suspension will remain indefinitely.
In the Santillan suit, the Diocese did not deny that Msgr. Herdegen had abused the brothers. However, the Diocese sharply disputed that it actually knew of the abuse while it was occurring. It also disputed specific claims over when the abuse occurred and the large monetary demands of the brothers.
The brothers' allegations on these points were contradicted by the facts, including the testimony of several witnesses who testified at trial.
Bishop Steinbock expressed gratitude for the jury's Special Finding and the jury's final verdict finding that the Diocese of Fresno is not liable for the abuse.
Bishop Steinbock affirmed the Diocese' dedication to having measures in place that raise awareness of the problem of child sexual abuse, and that promote a safer environment for children and young people.
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