San Bernardino: Diocese, Parish, Priest Sued in Sex Abuse Case

By David Olson
The Press-Enterprise
September 23, 2011

Sherida Ruiz holds a photograph of the Rev. Alejandro Jose Castillo who was convicted and sentenced for sexually abusing a boy during a news conference at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Ontario on Thursday. Attorney John Manly stands in front of her, talking about the case. Ruiz says her own son was abused by a different priest years ago. Castillo has been sentenced to one year in jail for the molestation.

The parents of a 12-year-old boy molested by an Ontario priest filed suit this week against the Diocese of San Bernardino, alleging that church officials covered up past sexual abuse and predatory behavior.

"The diocese knew well that Father Castillo had problems with sexual abuse," said Martha Escutia, an attorney for the parents, at a news conference Thursday outside Castillo's former church. "But they didn't say anything to parishioners."

The Rev. Alejandro "Alex" Jose Castillo was sentenced Aug. 31 to a year in jail for molesting the boy in late 2008.

A separate suit was filed on behalf of the boy's then-16-year-old brother, who also alleged abuse. Prosecutors could not bring charges in that case because the statute of limitations had expired, as it did for alleged abuse by Castillo involving at least three other boys or men.

The civil suits also name Castillo, Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Ontario and Monsignor Gerard Lopez, the diocesan vicar who attorneys said lied to the parents when he allegedly told them in 2010 that Castillo had never been previously accused of abuse.

Court documents state that Lopez told Ontario police in 2010 that he had investigated two other allegations against Castillo but concluded they were unfounded.

In a statement Thursday, the diocese said, "Given our well-documented commitment to protect children from abuse through both policy and action, it is disappointing to be named in these lawsuits."

The statement said the diocese immediately reported the 12-year-old boy's abuse allegations to the police and stripped Castillo of his priestly duties.

"We continue to offer our prayers to all victims of sexual abuse that they receive God's healing presence and His grace in their lives," the statement said. "We continue to commit ourselves to preventing the terrible sin of abuse in our families, our communities and in society as a whole."

The diocese declined to comment further because the matter is now in litigation, said diocesan spokesman John Andrews.

John Manly, an attorney for the parents, said he was struck that the diocese's alleged cover-ups happened years after an explosion of lawsuits by sexual abuse victims.

"Despite all the promises, the dioceses really haven't dealt with these issues and haven't gotten rid of the bad apples who prey on children," he said.

The Diocese of San Bernardino has paid $20.3 million to settle sexual-abuse cases since its formation in 1978, Andrews said.

The boys in the lawsuit are now 15 and 18.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, stating that the boys have suffered depression, anxiety, nightmares, shame and problems in school and with intimacy and relationships because of the abuse.

The abuse against the boys, each of them godchildren of Castillo, occurred repeatedly in late 2008 in Castillo's Ontario home and car, the suit states.

The suit alleges that the diocese and parish knew of "Father Castillo's dangerous propensities and tendencies as a child molester, sexual harasser and sexual abuser" before the two boys were molested but did nothing to warn the boys, their family or other parishioners. There was a "tolerance and culture of sexual abuse" in the diocese, the suit says.

The parents in the case agreed to a plea bargain of one year in jail so their son would not have to endure the trauma of testifying. Castillo could have faced up to 22 years in prison if convicted of all eight original counts.

Joelle Casteix, western regional director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that, because there was no criminal trial, the lawsuits are vital to revealing what the diocese and parish knew about Castillo's background before the molestations occurred.

"The beauty of a civil trial is we will get to know what the supervisors knew and when they knew it," she said. "We'll get to see the paperwork trail that shows his assignments, whether other allegations may have been covered up, and whether he was purposely dumped in Spanish-speaking parishes like this because they knew Spanish-speaking parents were less likely to be believed."

Castillo also served in three predominantly Latino parishes in San Bernardino, Rialto and Ontario, as well as in the Los Angeles area and in diocesan and statewide leadership posts.


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