|Sex Abuse Lawsuit Names San Antonio Archdiocese
By Michelle Roberts
The Dallas Morning News
April 8, 2010
A West Texas teen filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Archdiocese of San Antonio and Archbishop Jose Gomez alleging repeated sexual assaults by a parish priest, who he says the church's leadership should have known was abusive.
The allegations came just days after Gomez was named to a high-profile post leading the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where he is scheduled to be formally introduced to parishioners in May.
The lawsuit accuses the Rev. John M. Fiala of repeatedly sexually assaulting the teen, including twice forcing him to have sex at gunpoint when Fiala was the pastor at Sacred Heart of Mary Parish in the remote community of Rocksprings. The lawsuit alleges the incidents occurred in 2007 and 2008, during Gomez's tenure overseeing a swath of south and west Texas.
"We believe that they knew there were serious issues with Father Fiala," the teen's attorney, Tom Rhodes, said of church leadership. "When you look at his assignment history, there were gaps. He was moved around quite a bit. We believe the church knew he was a serious problem."
Archdiocese spokesman Pat Rodgers said he could not comment directly on the litigation, but said in a prepared statement that when Edwards County authorities told the archdiocese in 2008 that they were investigating accusations of custodial interference — not sexual abuse — by Fiala, the priest was removed from ministry and the parish was told about the investigation.
Fiala has not been charged. A listed phone number for him was disconnected Thursday.
Gomez, who has been the archbishop in San Antonio since 2004, also told Fiala's religious order about the investigation and Fiala's suspension, Rodgers said. Fiala is no longer in priestly ministry, according to the order, The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.
The lawsuit alleges Fiala had sexual contact with the teen, now 18, once or twice a month under the pretext of giving him private catechism lessons.
Rhodes said Fiala sexually assaulted the boy and threatened to hurt him and his family. Following two alleged rapes on out-of-town trips, the priest gave the teen a car, Rhodes said. The teen later gave the car back and ran away.
The attorney said that while the boy's mother complained about Fiala taking the teen out of town without her permission, the family was not aware of the alleged abuse until the teen tried to commit suicide. A counselor reported the allegations to the authorities.
The Edwards County Sheriff's Office confirmed it has conducted a criminal investigation of Fiala, but a message left for the sheriff seeking details about the investigation was not returned Thursday.
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