Priest Accused of Child Sex Assault

By Michael Kelly
Standard Times
April 15, 2010

A lawsuit filed this month against the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio might trigger a criminal investigation in San Angelo.

The lawsuit accusing a priest of sexual misconduct includes, among other allegations, claims that the priest forced a teenage boy in his care to have sexual relations with him at gunpoint in a San Angelo motel.

Edwards County Sheriff Donald Letsinger said information on the case has been sent to Howard and

Tom Green county district attorneys for examination.

"They're aware of what we've done. I think they're waiting to hear from my district attorney," he said. "Where a case involves one or more or several counties, whoever initiated the investigation generally decides or confers with the other counties as to how a prosecution might go forward."

District attorney investigator Mike Harris is handling the case for San Angelo's office, Letsinger said.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of an unnamed man living in Edwards County, alleges that when the plaintiff was a boy he was subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation by a parish priest, Father John M. Fiala, in Rocksprings, where the plaintiff and his family were members of the parish.

The lawsuit seeks actual damages, punitive damages, costs and other relief from the archdiocese and specifically names Archbishop Jose Gomez, who was recently named by Pope Benedict as successor to the retiring archbishop of Los Angeles, as a defendant in the case, claiming the Archdiocese of San Antonio "knew or should have known that Fiala was engaging in forbidden sexual contact which was actually and potentially damaging to Plaintiff."

The plaintiff, the lawsuit says, was 15 and 16 years old when he was abused by the priest starting in 2007.

In January 2008, when Fiala was a priest at the Sacred Heart of Mary in Rocksprings, he offered to take the plaintiff to a youth event in San Angelo and then to visit the plaintiff's girlfriend in Big Spring, the lawsuit states. The priest booked them into the Motel 6 in San Angelo and raped the plaintiff at gunpoint, the lawsuit claims.

The abuse continued through 2008, the lawsuit claims, during which time the priest give the boy money and bought him gifts, including a computer, cell phone and Chrysler Sebring car. Late in the year, the lawsuit says, the boy ran away from home, tried to commit suicide and then confided in a school counselor, who took the matter to legal authorities.

The lawsuit says the archdiocese of San Antonio "negligently failed to implement reasonable policies and procedures to detect and prevent the sexual abuse of boys by Fiala even though Defendants knew or should have known he was a predictable risk for such sexual abuse and sexual misconduct."

Fiala had been assigned over the previous decade to locations in Corpus Christi, Nebraska and Missouri.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio issued a statement April 8 indicating that Fiala's appointments to Sacred Heart of Mary in Rocksprings, St. Raymond Mission in Leakey and St. Mary Magdalen Mission in Camp Wood all had been suspended effective Oct. 24, 2008, after the archdiocese had been informed by Edwards County authorities that an investigation involving Fiala and custodial interference of a minor was being conducted.

"Since that time we have been working closely and in full cooperation with the Edwards County Sheriff's Department," the statement said.

The lawsuit, dated April 3, was filed with the 131st District Court in Bexar County. No date has been set for it to be heard.

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