Plaintiff of Sexual Assault Settles with Diocese

By John Corrales
Oa Online
November 23, 2011

[court documents]

The plaintiff of a child sexual-abuse case involving a deceased priest from the Diocese of San Angelo reached a monetary settlement for a confidential amount Friday, according to the plaintiff's law firm.

The plaintiff, whose name was not stated in the news release, accused the late Father David Espitia of sexually assaulting him between 1994 and 2003 while Espitia was a parochial vicar at St. Anthony's Catholic Church and St. Joseph's Catholic Church, both in Odessa, and pastor at St. Ann's Parish in Colorado City, the release stated.

The plaintiff reported he was assaulted beginning at about the age of 8, court documents state, and "escalated to anal rape" when the boy was about 10 or 11 until he was 16, when he spoke with a school counselor.

"We're keeping his name confidential because of his age (at the times of the reports) and because he still has family in the San Angelo area. We want to respect his privacy and their privacy," attorney Tahira Khan Merritt said. Merritt said the settlement amount was kept confidential for the plaintiff's safety as well.

On July 13, 2003, Espitia was found dead in the rectory at St. Ann's Parish, in a death eventually ruled as a suicide by hanging, shortly after the accusations began to be made.

After his death, the Colorado City Police Department found hundreds of pictures of homosexual activity and child pornography on Espitia's computer, court documents claim. A suicide note referring to the plaintiff's abuse was also found, the news release stated.

Regarding the sexual abuse claims, Bishop Michael Pfeifer of the Diocese of San Angelo said they are unproven accusations.

"There was no court or any judge saying that this happened against the man," he said. However, cases against the dead are not prosecuted. "And the complaints coming in from 1995 and in 2001 were not of sexual abuse or misconduct, but of Espitia's style of ministry."

In contrast, court documents from the 340th District Court in Tom Green County do accuse the sexual abuse of continuing until Spring 2003, and on parish property.

The plaintiff's civil case was filed at the end of 2009, around six years after the boy supposedly initially spoke out to the diocese, including Pfeifer.

The news release from Merritt's law firm stated Bishop Pfeifer never reached out to the plaintiff after learning of the accusations made against Espitia.

Pfeifer disagreed.

"The very first time I learned of the case through the mother of the individual, I offered counseling to the alleged victim and the counseling was not accepted," Pfeifer said.

Both Pfeifer and Khan said the settlement brings closure to the saga.

"He (the plaintiff) stood up for what was right and I think he feels vindicated," Khan said. "We're hopeful that the diocese will learn from this case on how to better address victims when they do come forward and actually follow their policy."

On the other hand, Pfeifer said the closure brought to the plaintiff's case does not prove the accusations made against Espitia.

"For pastoral, social and legal reasons, the Catholic Diocese agreed to a process of mediation to bring closure to this case," Pfeifer said. "Since the beginning of this case, there has been no clear evidence to support the plaintiff's position. We categorically deny there is any bearing to this case."

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