Fraud Case against Fresno Diocese Delayed

Fresno Bee
July 31, 2010

Legal arguments in a civil lawsuit that accuses the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno of fraud have been delayed to Sept. 9 in Fresno County Superior Court.

Initially, Judge Adolfo Corona was scheduled to consider the church's request to dismiss the lawsuit next Thursday, but new documents filed by the plaintiff's lawyer, Joseph C. George, prompted the judge to continue the hearing.

Both sides, however, will meet for a case management conference on Aug. 9.

George is using a novel legal strategy -- he is suing for fraud because the deadline to file a sex abuse case has passed.

The case involves a former altar boy who says his Bakersfield parish priest molested him 17 years ago.

The lawsuit contends the diocese committed fraud when Bishop John T. Steinbock broke a promise.

The former altar boy says Steinbock told him he would defrock the priest who allegedly molested him.

But the accused molester, the Rev. Father Hermy Dave Ceniza, continues to work as a priest in the Philippines, according to George, who represents the former altar boy.

Lawyers for the Fresno diocese, which includes Bakersfield, said the suit is legally defective because Steinbock kept his promise and got rid of Ceniza -- though they don't deny he still is a priest.

While suing the Catholic Church for fraud has been tried in other states, this could be the first time a California judge will rule on it.


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