Alleged Victim Sues Diocese As Salinas Police Examine Molestation Reports.

By Mary Duan
Monterey County Weekly
February 17, 2011

The investigation into Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry’s alleged misconduct was announced to parishioners at Madonna del Sasso during Sunday mass.

The beloved pastor of the Old Mission San Juan Bautista church has been removed from his post as Salinas police investigate allegations that he repeatedly molested a teenage boy while head pastor at Madonna del Sasso church.

Meanwhile, the alleged victim has retained a Newport Beach-based law firm that specializes in clergy abuse claims, and filed suit on Tuesday against Fitz-Henry and the Diocese of Monterey in Monterey County Superior Court.

Police say the allegations against Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry don't jibe with findings of an investigation commissioned by the Diocese of Monterey. The entire case has potential to throw church policy into conflict with the law, and further tarnish the Diocese's reputation.

The victim, now 21 and still living in Monterey County, "wanted to be a priest himself," says Vince Finaldi, an associate at the firm Manly & Stewart. "He's scared because he doesn't think people will believe him… he says, 'Who's going to believe me? I'm a nobody and they hold [Fitz-Henry] up like he's a god.'"

Salinas Police spokesman Lalo Villegas says the alleged victim came to the police station on Feb. 1 and reported "inappropriate conduct" that occurred when he was in his mid-teens. The conduct purportedly happened over the course of a year starting in late 2005, and took place at various locations inside the church, including the confessional and the sacristy restroom, Finaldi says.

The attorney says the church began its investigation in early January, after his firm sent a letter to the Diocese outlining the allegations.

Villegas says the case has been forwarded to Salinas detectives for further investigation.

In a written statement, the Diocese says it hired an "independent investigator" who couldn't verify the allegations involving the 21-year-old man. In the course of that investigation, the investigator, who the Diocese identified only as a retired detective, found "credible" evidence of sexual misconduct with a minor dating back 20 years, according to the statement.

"We have been in contact with the Diocese and I am aware of that information, but we are not investigating the 20-year-old case," Villegas says. "We don't know what bearing it will have."

News of the allegations sent shockwaves through Salinas' tight-knit Catholic community over the weekend, after a Diocese official announced the investigation during Sunday mass at Madonna.

Fitz-Henry was suspended from his position at the Mission on Jan. 7 after the '05-'06 allegation was presented to the Diocese of Monterey. The investigator presented the findings to a body called the Diocesan Independent Review Board on Feb. 16, according to Tom Riordan, vicar for Temporalities and Administration for the Diocese of Monterey.

Riordan says the Diocese pledges full cooperation with the criminal investigation. He adds the announcement made at services is in keeping with Diocese policy to make credible allegations public and invite any other victims forward.

"We're not saying the newest allegation is not credible. We just couldn't find it credible at this time," Riordan says. The Diocese was not aware of the pending civil suit.

Fitz-Henry could not be located for comment. He has retained a criminal defense attorney who says, "It's a difficult time to be a priest.

"The Diocese of Monterey has to approach this with a great transparency," says Fitz-Henry's attorney, Carolyn Ingalls-Keeley of the Worthington Law Centre in Salinas. "It's the way the Catholic Church is these days… the Diocese feels the need to put things out there whether they are true or not."

Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, who attends services at Madonna, says, "These are serious allegations and I hope they're not true, but that's for the legal system to decide, and the system is still 'innocent until proven guilty.' As a practicing Catholic, I hope for truth, healing and reconciliation for all parties concerned."

Since 1996, Fitz-Henry has been a priest at San Juan Bautista, with the exception of a two-year stint at Madonna del Sasso.

At the time of the earlier allegation of sexual misconduct, Fitz-Henry was stationed at the Carmel Mission. The Diocese declined to disclose the location associated with that allegation.

The Diocese will refer the case to Rome, at which point Riordan could receive direction to pursue a church trial locally. Pending the trial – which could strip or reinstate his authority – Fitz-Henry is suspended.

The investigation and trial procedure is unfamiliar territory in Monterey, where "this is not something that happens on a regular basis at all, thank God," says Riordan.

Dr. Marc Tunzi, chair of the Diocesan Independent Review Board that received the investigation findings, says, "The review board members take our role very seriously on behalf of all the people in the Diocese of Monterey, and very clearly and acutely feel the weight of that responsibility."

Tunzi, director of the Natividad Family Practice Residency Program, declined to speak directly to reporters and instead read a statement to Riordan to pass on to the media.


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