San Juan Mission Priest Accused of Sexual Misconduct

By Connor Ramey
Hollister Free Lance
February 16, 2011

Father Edward Fitz-Henry talks about a bathroom project at the Mission in 2007.

A civil lawsuit has been filed against a Catholic priest who was working at the San Juan Bautista Mission, alleging he sexually abused a 14-year-old member of Salinas' Madonna Del Sasso Parish in choir in 2005.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Monterey, alleges that the Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry discussed sexual issues with the then 14-year-old victim that eventually escalated to sexual touching. Also listed in the lawsuit are the Roman Catholic Bishop of Monterey and Madonna Del Sasso Parish.

There have been no criminal charges, but the Salinas Police Department is still investigating the allegations.

The Monterey Diocese temporarily suspended Fitz-Henry, who has spent 15 years at the Mission in two separate stints, on Jan. 7 after the Roman Catholic Church first received information regarding the alleged incident, Fitz-Henry's criminal attorney Charlie Keeley said. The attorney in an interview said Fitz-Henry denied the allegations and is distraught over the effect on his reputation.

During the church's investigation of the suspected crimes, investigators found new information about a previous relationship 20 years earlier and moved to suspend Fitz-Henry indefinitely, diocese spokesman Tom Riordan said.

The church is forced to suspend Fitz-Henry and get in contact with the local police department when sexual allegations are first presented - they do not first confirm that the incidents occurred, Keeley said.

"It does not reflect a belief that it happened," she said. "It's part of the process - they have to do it."

Riordan said the new information was discovered Feb. 11 and quickly reported to the Salinas Police Department.

"We determined that the allegations were credible and we moved to suspend him," Riordan said.

The diocese knew of the previous incident, which took place at the Carmel Mission 19 years ago, beforehand. But its sexual nature was unknown before recent developments, Riordan said. The diocese knew of a strong professional relationship in Carmel but did not believe it was sexual.

The new information came from the previous victim during the 2005 incident's investigation, Riordan said.

"Our investigators went to the person and asked," he said.

Last weekend, the diocese sent representatives to Mission San Juan Bautista and Mission Del Passo in Salinas to give information to members of the church and allow them to come forward with other incidents. As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, the church has received no other allegations.

Vince Finaldi, the attorney for the 21-year-old victim, called into question the response from the church and the bishop, after it was admitted Fitz-Henry was accused of sexual misconduct 20 years earlier.

"Why was he allowed to work at a church?" Finaldi said. "The church needs to fully disclose the first allegations against him. They can pull him out of the ministry, but that doesn't solve the problem."

Keeley said she couldn't discuss the previous allegation because the lawsuit was filed.

"There was never criminal charges filed," she said.

Fitz-Henry is working with the church and the police department during their investigation of the suspected incidents, his attorney said.

"He is not running away," she said. "He wants to show that the allegations are a complete lie."

Keeley explained that Fitz-Henry denies the charges and is distraught over his "ruined reputation."

"He is devastated by the allegations," she said. "He has given his life to the Catholic Church."

Fitz-Henry was a pastor at the San Juan Bautista Mission from 1994 to 2005 and returned in 2007 until he was suspended earlier this year. He worked at Madonna Del Sasso from 2005 to 2007.

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