Lawsuit Filed Claiming Clergy Sex Abuse, Cover-up

April 7, 2010

A 35-year-old man has filed a civil child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuit against the Fresno Catholic Diocese charging negligent misrepresentation, fraud and fraudulent concealment/intentional non-disclosure.

The alleged victim, only identified as Joseph Doe, said that he was sexually molested by the Rev. Hermy Dave O. Ceniza, who became assistant pastor at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield in or around 1991. Ceniza transferred to St. Francis from St. Gregory Church in San Mateo, Calif.

The lawsuit alleges that Ceniza molested the boy for two years. According to the lawsuit, Ceniza confronted the boy at the his home and threatened to commit suicide if the child refused to have sex with him.

"This victim is a very brave, a strong young man who did exactly what any child sex abuse victim should do; he found the courage to speak up and report the molester to an allegedly responsible adult," said Sacrament attorney Joseph C. George, who represents Doe. "The trouble is that this grown-up, a bishop, refused to call police, and now, a dangerous child molester still walks the streets."

The boy called Fresno church officials and reported the sexual molestation in 1993. Bishop T. Steinbock drove from Fresno to Bakersfield to meet with Doe. The two spent two hours together and Steinbock asked detailed questions about Ceniza's abuse of the boy. At the end of the meeting, Doe said, Steinbock told him that Ceniza would no longer be a priest or have access to children.

Ceniza never again appeared at St. Francis Church.

Because he was satisfied that Steinbock would honor his word and keep Ceniza away from children, Doe did not report Coniza to the police or file criminal charges or civil litigation, according to the lawsuit. However, after reading a Los Angeles Times story about another Fresno predator priest, the Rev. Anthony Herdegen, Doe researched the diocese's track record on abuse and discovered that Ceniza, in fact, had not been defrocked and still has access to children in the Philippines.

George, who represents Doe, has tried to get information from Steinbock through his lawyer about what actions, if any, he took against Ceniza. However, the church lawyer has refused to comment.


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