Foster brother: Deacon hosted teen drinking parties on church property

By Donald W. Meyers
Yakima Herald-Republic
March 12, 2014

YAKIMA, Wash. — Testimony is expected to resume in U.S. District Court this morning by a man who says he was raped in 1999 by a deacon with the Catholic Diocese of Yakima.

In testimony that began Monday, the man, identified in court as John Doe, said he was 17 years old when Deacon Aaron Ramirez invited him to a Zillah church building to learn how to play the guitar and talk about the Bible, but instead got him drunk and then repeatedly had sex with him.

“He just kept doing it,” a tearful Doe told the court. “It seemed like it was going on for days.”

Doe is suing the diocese for $3.1 million, arguing that the diocese failed to properly check Ramirez’s background before accepting him as a candidate for the priesthood and didn’t properly supervise him.

The diocese says it had no prior warnings that Ramirez had problems with young boys, and that Doe’s accounts of the incident were inconsistent.

Tuesday marked the second day in a nonjury trial before federal Judge Edward Shea that is expected to last into next week.

Doe and his foster brother both testified about Ramirez’s conduct in Zillah, where he had been a deacon at Zillah’s Resurrection Catholic Church. They described Ramirez as “cool” and said he was a frequent visitor to their home and usually carried a guitar with him.

But they said there was one aspect of Ramirez’s behavior that caught them off guard: He would drink alcohol, such as beer, at dinner with the family.

Doe said Ramirez’s drinking was “weird” to him, since he believed priests should serve as examples.

The foster brother, in a videotaped deposition played to the court, said Ramirez would have teens over to a church office in a trailer on the grounds for what were supposed to be Bible study sessions. In reality, he told the court, Ramirez would give them wine to drink.

Doe said on July 29, 1999, he and his foster brother were invited over to the trailer for a guitar lesson and Bible study. He said his foster mother, who was preparing to go to work, gave them permission since they were going to the church.

At the trailer, Doe said Ramirez offered him and his foster brother beer. He said he drank two cans of beer slowly, when he noticed that his foster brother did not seem well. He also said that Ramirez got behind him to teach him guitar chords, a position that made him uncomfortable.

The foster brother said in his deposition that at some point he wound up in bed with Ramirez, who was “spooning” him from behind. That’s when he said he decided to go home, and Ramirez walked him back.

Doe said he did not recall going with Ramirez to the house and back. Once back at the trailer, he said Ramirez encouraged him to have two shots of a clear liquor he believed was tequila. When the liquor ran out, Ramirez went out and came back with a bottle of wine from the church and encouraged Doe to drink several cups.

Doe said he went outside the trailer and fell down on the ground sick. He then recalled Ramirez grabbing his legs and dragging him back into the trailer. There, he told the court, Ramirez proceeded to perform oral and anal sex on him in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

Doe said he could not move, and his attempts to scream for help came out as mumbles, he told the court.

The next morning, Doe said he found himself naked in bed with Ramirez. He grabbed his clothes, got dressed and went home.

According to court documents, Ramirez fled to Mexico and is believed to have never returned to the United States.

Also testifying in court Tuesday was Monsignor Robert Siler, the diocese’s chancellor. He testified that in 2011 that he unsuccessfully searched for Ramirez’s application for the priesthood, including letters of recommendation from seminaries and religious orders.

He also wrote one of the orders in Mexico that Ramirez was a member of, the Sons of the Holy Family, to see if they had copies of any recommendations. He wrote that the diocese had lost its records on Ramirez, who he said had been accused of “sexually abusing” a minor.

In an email presented in court as evidence, the Mexican order’s prefect told Siler that they had no letters in their archives from the diocese seeking background on Ramirez before he was hired.

However, the email from the Mexican order noted that Ramirez was asked to leave the order and a request to be reinstated was denied in 1996. The email also said that an official of the order noted that if any seminaries inquired about Ramirez, the order was to give Ramirez a negative recommendation. The email did not explain why he should be given a negative recommendation.

Under cross examination, Siler said a negative recommendation from a religious order is not necessarily a sign of immoral conduct. He said religious orders can give one for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of humility or failing to fully live up to the order’s ideals, such as helping the poor.

Nor is a negative recommendation a bar to ordination, Siler testified. He noted that the Rev. William Shaw, who was the pastor in Zillah at the time of the incident, had a negative recommendation from a religious order for bad grades.



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