Suspended Priest Sues Monterey Diocese
By Virginia Hennessey
Santa Cruz Sentinel
February 17, 2012
|The Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry He was suspended by the diocese in 2011.|
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey is being sued by one of its own priests for not defending him against claims of child molestation.
The Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry filed a cross-complaint against the diocese Wednesday after it paid $500,000 to a man who claimed he was molested by the priest when he was a minor in 2005.
Fitz-Henry was suspended from his role as a priest in January 2011. At the time, he was the popular pastor of Mission San Juan Bautista.
"John R.J. Doe," now in his early 20s, claimed the molestations occurred when he was an altar boy and choir member at Madonna del Sasso Church in Salinas, where Fitz-Henry formerly served.
Fitz-Henry's attorney, Daniel deVries, said the priest is suing because the diocese abandoned him. He only learned of the settlement after it happened.
"It is our position that the Diocese of Monterey should have stood by the side of their priest and defended him against these accusations," he said. "Father Ed did not pay one penny toward this settlement, nor would he have if he'd been asked."
In a prepared statement released Friday, spokesman Tom Riordan said the diocese acted in keeping with the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and other church documents.
"It is unfortunate that Fr. Fitz-Henry has decided to take this action in the civil courts," Riordan said. "Civil courts do not have jurisdiction in internal church governance. The Diocese will promptly move for a dismissal of this cross claim."
Riordan said Fitz-Henry was suspended following an investigation triggered by Doe's lawsuit. That investigation found that a 1992 complaint against Fitz-Henry was a credible claim of sexual abuse. The church had previously concluded the earlier case was a "non-sexual boundary violation."
Riordan said the diocese admitted no liability in settling Doe's case. However, he said, because of the conclusions in the 1992 complaint, Bishop Richard Garcia will forward Fitz-Henry's case to Rome for consideration of removing him from the priesthood.
DeVries, of San Juan Bautista, said both the 1992 case, which was not alleged to be sexual in nature, and Doe's claims of molestation in 2005 were fully investigated by law enforcement, and the Monterey County District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute them.
While the diocese accepted no liability in Doe's settlement, his attorney, Vince Finaldi of Newport Beach, said Garcia would not be forwarding Fitz-Henry's case to Rome if he felt the man's claims were not credible.
He credited the diocese for settling the claim without lengthy and expensive litigation. His law firm, Manly & Stewart, settled another molestation case involving two priests in Salinas in 2009 for $1.2 million after six years of litigation and dozens of depositions.
He said the settlement will allow Doe to get on with his life and continue counseling. A former singer and musician in Madonna del Sasso's choir, the man is in college in Southern California and has resumed his music education.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), released a statement Friday acknowledging the man's settlement.
"While no amount of money can restore the childhood lost or innocence shattered as a result of childhood sex abuse, we are glad that Fr. Edward Fitz-Henry's victim is able to walk away with some feeling of justice," he said.
He also urged Garcia to look for other alleged victims of Fitz-Henry.
In a memo sent to all of the diocese's priests this week, Garcia indicated the diocese planned to inform parishioners in San Juan Bautista of the settlement during Masses this weekend. Riordan said Friday that would likely not happen because it had already hit the news. Instead, he said, the Rev. Jim Henry will tell those who ask that a letter is available.
DeVries predicted there would be a "firestorm" in the town over the diocese's decision. He described Fitz-Henry as an involved member of the community whose popularity is "huge, off the charts."
"He's very much a beloved priest," he said. "Everything that has happened has been devastating to this community, which is pretty much built around the mission."
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.