Law Firm Demands Diocese of Fresno Publicly Name Accused Priests As Other Dioceses
By Yesenia Amaro
October 28, 2020
Pressure is mounting for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno to publicly name priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct as other dioceses have done.
The national law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates on Wednesday announced the Diocese of Fresno in May offered financial compensation to a survivor, but the diocese still refuses to publicly name the accused priest.
In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, the Diocese of Fresno said it was its policy to not comment or respond to matters that involve active litigation.
The priest in question is Father Anthony Moreno. In early January, Moreno joined the growing list of priests in the Diocese of Fresno who have been accused of sexual misconduct. That was when a lawsuit was filed against the diocese by a victim identified as Toni Moreland.
Moreland’s lawsuit was filed under the state’s new Child Victims Act law, which went into effect in January. The Anderson firm on Wednesday said the suit is pending.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, “a tip identified Fr. Moreno as working as a Boy Scout Leader in Rosamond, California,” north of Lancaster, the firm said. Still, the firm said, the Diocese of Fresno has refused to publicly identify Moreno as an “abuser.”
Widespread abuse also has been documented within the Boy Scouts of America, and recently victims in California urged others to take action by speaking up and filing a claim before it’s too late.
“This case exemplifies the public safety nightmare that exists in the Diocese of Fresno and is being perpetuated by the Bishop’s refusal to release a list of known abusers as other dioceses have done throughout the country,” attorney Mike Reck of Jeff Anderson & Associates said in a news release Wednesday. “By keeping the history and whereabouts of its clerical sexual abusers secret the Diocese of Fresno puts children everywhere at risk.”
The Diocese of Fresno did say it is “committed to the safety of all children and young people and has been proactive in encouraging victims to contact the Diocese of Fresno with their allegations.”
A September 2020 newsletter from Boy Scouts Troop 41 names Moreno as a “committee chair.” A call was made to the phone number listed next to Moreno’s name. He denied ever working for the Diocese of Fresno, ever being a priest or ever working at any other dioceses.
A 2018 newspaper article shows a photo of Moreno, and describes him as a Troop 41 Scoutmaster.
“She (Moreland) viewed the photo and positively identified him,” Reck told The Bee on Wednesday afternoon.
Moreno became a priest in 1979, and soon after served at St. Philip the Apostle before moving to serve at Sacred Heart in Fresno in 1981. After 1982, church records show Moreno was on a leave of absence through 1992, Reck said.
“After 1992, he stops appearing on church documents,” he said.
DIOCESE HASN’T RELEASED NAMES
While almost all dioceses in California released their lists, naming credibly accused priests, in 2018 and early 2019, the Diocese of Fresno is one of only two in the state that have yet to make that information public. Two years after the Diocese of Fresno began to ponder what to release to the public, it still remains unknown when it will reveal that information.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco is the only other entity in the state that has also yet to name priests, although it has already completed its investigation. Meanwhile, the Diocese of Fresno said its investigation is still “a work in progress,” and it doesn’t know when it will be completed.
An advocacy group said the Diocese of Fresno was delaying publicly naming accused priests to avoid more lawsuits from victims. The diocese would not comment on that claim.
Days after Moreland’s lawsuit was filed in January, the Diocese of Fresno got hit with another lawsuit. The Diocese of Fresno is also one of six in the state taking part in a compensation program for victims that’s operated independently from the church. Victims of sex abuse were able to start seeking compensation through this program in late 2019.
Moreland also filed a claim through the independent compensation program, according to the release. Her claim was substantiated by the diocese, Reck said.
“Shortly after filing, she received a letter from the Law Offices of Kenneth R. Feinberg informing her that she was eligible for financial compensation in exchange for her refraining from pursuing further legal action and requiring her to dismiss her pending lawsuit,” the release says.
Moreland, the release says, rejected the offer. Instead, she plans to seek the truth about what the diocese knew about Moreno through the court process. The amount of money offered to Moreland is redacted in a copy of the letter.
“We demand full disclosure by Diocese of Fresno Bishop Joseph V. Brennan,” attorney Jeff Anderson said in the release. “It’s time for the identities, histories, and current whereabouts of all clergy accused of child sexual abuse who worked in the Diocese of Fresno to be known.”
Reck said he wonders how many more priests are out there who have been accused and the public doesn’t know about them.
“I don’t know why the diocese is choosing secrecy over transparency,” he said. “Or why the diocese is choosing to protect its predators over disclosing to the public.”