Lawyer in church rape case asks for bigger award for alleged victim
By Donald W. Meyers
April 22, 2014
YAKIMA, Wash. — A man who alleges he was raped as a teen by a deacon with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yakima deserves more than the $3.1 million originally sought, his attorney argued in federal court Monday.
Attorney Bryan Smith urged U.S. District Judge Edward Shea to use his discretion to award more, suggesting $8.6 million instead.
“How much is it worth to have your soul ripped from you, or think that it will never come back?” Smith asked during closing arguments in the abuse case.
But an attorney for the diocese argued the lawsuit should be thrown out, saying the man, known in court papers as John Doe, has not proven his case.
Shea, who is presiding over the non-jury trial, said he would issue a ruling later. Testimony in the case was heard in March, but closing arguments were delayed until Monday due to scheduling conflicts.
During last month’s testimony, Doe said Deacon Aaron Ramirez invited him to a trailer at Resurrection Catholic Church in Zillah on July 29, 1999, for guitar lessons, but plied him with alcohol — including sacramental wine — and repeatedly raped him.
Ramirez fled to Mexico after the incident and is believed to have never returned to the United States.
Ted Buck, the diocese’s attorney, argued that the guitar lesson was not a church-sanctioned activity, meaning the church cannot be held responsible for the incident, which Buck described as “sexual abuse.”
Buck said the diocese had no warning that Ramirez might pose a threat to children when it accepted him as a candidate for priesthood, and said no amount of background checking would have prevented the incident.
But Vito De La Cruz, one of Doe’s attorneys, noted that a religious order in Mexico that Ramirez had earlier belonged to wrote that it was never asked for a recommendation when Ramirez went to Yakima, and would have given a negative recommendation if asked.
During the trial, diocese officials said they had been unable to find Ramirez’s personnel file, which they said would have proven the diocese had conducted due diligence on his background.
But De La Cruz asked Shea to assume it contained negative information and was destroyed.
Buck said the diocese has handed over personnel files with damaging information before, and reiterated that the diocese would have preferred to have had Ramirez’s file available.
Buck said Doe also failed to prove that his struggles with alcoholism and suicide attempts were the result of the incident and not from any of the past episodes of abuse Doe went through. Doe and social workers earlier testified that Doe previously had been physically and sexually abused as a child and had acted out sexually toward his siblings.
Smith described Doe as someone who was resilient, having bounced back from a childhood of poverty and sexual abuse to become a star athlete in high school with aspirations to serve in the military, but said the incident pushed Doe past the breaking point.