Accused Priest Served in Nebraska

By David Hendee
World Herald
April 21, 2010

before leaving the state.

The Rev. John M. Fiala, 51, is accused in a civil lawsuit of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy at gunpoint and during private catechism sessions at a parish in Rocksprings, Texas, two years ago.

Fiala served at these parishes in the Omaha Catholic Archdiocese between 1984 and 1996: St. Columbkille, Papillion; Sacred Heart, Norfolk; St. Joan of Arc, St. Peter and Christ the King, all Omaha; St. Mary, Spencer; and St. Joseph, Wisner.

Anne McManigal, religious education director at St. Joseph in Wisner, said Fiala served one year as the parish priest in 1995.

"He had his good qualities, as every person does," she said Tuesday. "He did well visiting the elderly and had good rapport with them, and visiting the hospital and the sick. He had a real love for saints and the Blessed Mother. His homilies focused on the saints."

Fiala taught religion at West Point Central Catholic High School during his stint at Wisner.

McManigal said he was known for making pilgrimages to Fatima and Medjugorje and for not missing "Star Wars" conventions in California. He was a Disneyland fan, she said, and had a large library of video games and Disney videos.

Fiala surprised St. Joseph parishioners by leaving without notice after a year in the pulpit. He left the Omaha Archdiocese in 1996 to join the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, a society of apostolic life in Texas.

The Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese, said Fiala was an associate pastor at his first five parish stops in Papillion, Norfolk and Omaha. He was the pastor at Spencer in 1993-94 and in Wisner beginning in 1995.

"Priests move among parishes for a variety of reasons," he said, "depending on what the needs are."

Fiala was ordained by then-Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan in 1984.

In the spring of 2002, the Omaha Archdiocese received a complaint that Fiala made sexual advances against a minor sometime in the mid-1980s. The minor "purportedly refused" the advances, the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese said it notified the Sarpy County attorney and Fiala's religious superior in Texas, as well as the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, where Fiala was serving at the time. The Omaha Archdiocese said that officials are unaware of any criminal or civil charges being filed in connection with that report.

In the latest case, the San Antonio Express-News reported that Fiala is the subject of a civil lawsuit and criminal investigation into alleged abuse while serving in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

The lawsuit, filed by the alleged victim, claims that Fiala repeatedly assaulted the youth from January to August 2008 while Fiala was working as administrator at Sacred Heart of Mary in Rocksprings.

The teenager, who last fall turned 18 and is unnamed in the suit, was a member of the parish, the newspaper said.

In a statement dated April 8, the San Antonio Archdiocese said it received a complaint of "interference in the custody of a minor" against Fiala in the fall of 2008. This resulted in the removal of Fiala from ministry there.

The San Antonio Archdiocese said in a statement on its website that it has been working with the Edwards County (Texas) Sheriff's Office during its investigation.

Investigators will present evidence against Fiala to a Texas grand jury in May, Sheriff Don Letsinger told The World-Herald. Letsinger said the evidence could result in an indictment on four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child.

If Fiala is indicted, the sheriff said, the judge would order that a fugitive warrant be issued and have Fiala taken into custody.

Letsinger said his office last talked with Fiala in October 2008, when Fiala hired an attorney. Letsinger told the Express-News that Fiala is presumed to be living in Nebraska. He said he didn't know Fiala's exact whereabouts.

The Omaha Archdiocese said an official with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity confirmed that Fiala was removed from ministry in the fall of 2008 and has not been reassigned.

Letsinger said his investigators had the Texas Department of Public Safety examine two computers for evidence in the case: one belonging to the alleged victim and one belonging to the Rocksprings church that Fiala was using, Letsinger said. The results of the tests were returned a few months ago, he said.

Taphorn said the Omaha Archdiocese is committed to "serving the needs of anyone who has been abused by any member of the clergy or church employee."

Taphorn said victims should contact him at 402-558-3100 or the archdiocese's victim assistance coordinator, Mary Beth Hanus, at 888-808-9055, to report incidents of abuse.

Hanus said, "We want to make sure that people know the church cares, and wants to provide some healing."


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