Mom Waited Too Long to Sue in Priestly Molestation Case, Court Says

By Denny Walsh
Sacramento Bee
November 11, 2010

Dallas Morning News file, 2004 Jose Luis Urbina leads a procession into a Catholic church in Navojoa, Mexico, in 2004. He has never been arrested.

The mother of two boys allegedly molested by two priests more than 20 years ago waited too long to sue the Roman Catholic bishop of Sacramento, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-justice panel affirmed dismissal of the lawsuit by Visiting Judge John N. Anton, who was assigned to Sacramento Superior Court to handle the matter.

The mother sued the bishop, alleging fraud, which has a three-year statute of limitations, and negligence, which has a two-year limitation. However, the clock does not start until the aggrieved party learns of the injury.

Bishop Francis A. Quinn was the leader of the Sacramento Diocese at the time.

Proceeding as "Jane Doe," the mother said her sons did not tell of the molestations until 2007, and her attorneys, in the 2008 suit, invoked the "discovery" exception to the statute of limitations.

But the panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento said circumstances in the late 1980s and early 1990s should have caused her to inquire as to whether her sons had been victimized by the priests.

In June 1989, one of the priests, Jose Luis Urbina, pleaded guilty to molesting another minor parishioner and fled the country before he was sentenced.

In late 1991, the other priest, Gerardo Beltran, also fled the country after being accused of child molestation.

Those events, the fact that the priests had repeated and unsupervised access to her sons, and the boys' change in attitudes toward others, including their mother, created a duty on Jane Doe's part to make inquiries, the appeal panel stated.

She argued that, even had she asked the boys back then, they probably would have denied it. But the justices said "if she had diligently investigated nearly 20 years ago," she could show the effort yielded no information about the molestations of her sons, rather than now speculating. Under those circumstances, the panel said, the statutes of limitations would have been held in abeyance until her sons told her of the abuse.

Doe is described in the opinion as "an uneducated Mexican immigrant and single mother of 10 children, divorced from a man to whom she was married when she was 15." She went to work for the Sacramento Diocese in 1989, supervised by Beltran in her own parish.

"Urbina and Beltran visited Doe's home regularly and functioned as surrogate fathers to Doe's children," the opinion says.

The diocese never informed her the accusations were credible, she said in her suit.

Her world fell apart as a result of the priests' actions and the delay in her discovery of them, Doe alleged. Her relationship with her sons turned negative, and she was "unable to get timely psychiatric care for (them)."

She has suffered "physical, mental and emotional health problems, as a result of which she has had to employ" health care professionals "and has incurred and will in the future continue to incur expenses therefore, in a sum as yet unascertained," she claimed.

Wednesday's 16-page appellate opinion was authored by Acting Presiding Justice George Nicholson, with the concurrences of Associate Justices Ronald B. Robie and Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

The Sacramento Catholic Diocese has settled at least five lawsuits over alleged molestations by the two priests. Doe's sons have a suit pending against the diocese.

Beltran, 53, was arrested in Mexico in 2008 and held for five months pending extradition to Sacramento to face child abuse charges. Mexican courts ruled he couldn't be extradited as the statute of limitations had expired on his alleged crimes. He was released.

Urbina, 57, is also in Mexico but has never been arrested.

In 2005 Bishop William Weigand, then leader of the Sacramento diocese, learned the two men were serving as priests and contacted the Vatican. Eventually both men were banned from the priesthood.


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