Suit against Fresno Diocese Alleges Priest Abuse

By Pablo Lopez
The Fresno Bee
April 8, 2010

A former altar boy has sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, alleging negligence and fraud and contending he was molested by a priest in the 1990s.

The lawsuit, filed in Fresno County Superior Court this week, says Bishop John T. Steinbock learned of the alleged sexual abuse by the Rev. Hermy Dave Ceniza in 1993, and promised to remove Ceniza from the priesthood but never did.

The lawsuit also says Steinbock never notified law enforcement or parishioners of the alleged abuse.

Diocesan communications director Jesse Avila said in an e-mail: "At this point, I have no information to share other than we plan to investigate the allegations in the complaint."

Church officials declined to say whether Ceniza is still a priest, and he could not be reached to comment.

The former altar boy is not identified because state law allows confidentiality, said Sacramento attorney Joseph C. George, who is seeking unspecified damages for physical and emotional distress for his client.

The alleged molestation happened from 1991 to 1993, when Ceniza was pastor at St. Francis Catholic Church in Bakersfield, George said.

According to George, his client was 17 when Ceniza allegedly started to molest him. When he ended the relationship, the lawsuit alleges, Ceniza exhibited "stalking behavior" and threatened to commit suicide unless the sexual relations continued.

George said his client filed a report with the diocese in 1993 and Steinbock spent two hours with him. "Bishop Steinbock told the plaintiff that Father Hermy Dave would no longer be a priest and would no longer have access to children," the lawsuit said.

A day after the meeting, Ceniza was no longer at the St. Francis church, but parishioners were never told why, the lawsuit said. "Rather, the diocese remained silent after Bishop Steinbock's meeting with the plaintiff," the lawsuit said.

George says he believes Steinbock transferred Ceniza to another diocese so he could continue to serve as a priest.


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