Suit Claims Priest Molested Teen

By David Ogul
Press Enterprise [Riverside, CA]
June 29, 1996

The mother of a Lake Elsinore teen is suing the Catholic Church, alleging her son was sexually molested by a Corona priest after she brought the boy to church for moral guidance.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges that Father Joe Fertal of St. Edward Church molested the 17-year-old boy last year after his mother enrolled her son in Catechism classes.

"She thought the boy needed some direction in his life and the church would be a positive influence on him," said Riverside attorney Robert Oblachinski, who filed the suit Thursday in Riverside. "Instead she runs into this. "

Fertal, St. Edward Church and the Diocese of San Bernardino are named as defendants. Father Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the Diocese, said church officials have not seen the lawsuit and do not know enough about it to comment.

The lawsuit claims Fertal took the boy into his home numerous times between January and June 1995 "under the pretense of providing counsel and comfort to the boy. "

Beginning in March of last year, the suit claims, Fertal began to engage in sex acts with the boy. The suit also alleges that the priest often gave the boy, then 16, alcoholic beverages "in such a great quantity that he was rendered unconscious. " The boy, according to the suit, contends that while he was unconscious, Fertal engaged in anal intercourse.

The boy now is living in a group home, Oblachinski said. "He's trying to get himself straightened out. "

Fertal is no longer at St. Edward. Lincoln declined to say where he is now.

Church members recalled Fertal as a priest who stayed a short time at the parish after the departure of former pastor Father Bob Buchanan in 1993. Fertal was assigned to say Masses and did not have any other duties at the church, said Lucille Hampton, coordinator of Hispanic programs at St. Edward.

The allegations are not the first to target the Diocese of San Bernardino. In one eight-month period stretching into 1993, four priests left their parishes over allegations of sexual misconduct with children.

The Rev. Edward L. Ball, who resigned in September 1992 from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in San Bernardino, was the only one of the four who was convicted of a crime. Ball pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd conduct with two altar boys and was sent to the San Bernardino County jail for nine months.

Another priest at St. Edward, largest parish in the diocese, was the target of a sex misconduct claim in 1993. Anthony Garduno, then associate pastor, was removed from the church for allegedly asking a man to strip to show his genitals during a pre-marriage counseling session. Garduno filed suit against the diocese denying the misconduct and accusing church officials of slander.

In October of last year, a pastoral letter from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops conceded that sexual abuse of children occurs in all segments of society, including the clergy.

It further stated such incidents must be handled with compassion toward victims and their families while abusers must acknowledge wrongdoing and be punished.


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