Suit Claims Priest Fathered Child, Diocese Covered up Abuse

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 11, 2002

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo is being sued on claims a former priest fathered a child with a teen-age girl and diocese officials conspired to hide sexual abuse by priests.

The lawsuit, filed in Amarillo by plaintiffs listed as Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, names the diocese, Bishop John W. Yanta and former Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen as defendants.

Diocese officials referred all questions to diocese attorney Fred Griffin, who was out of town Thursday. He told the Amarillo Globe-News' Thursday editions he would comment at the "appropriate time." Yanta also was out of town, and Matthiesen said he hadn't seen the suit so couldn't comment.

The suit, filed Monday, alleges the Rev. Rosendo Herrera impregnated a 17-year-old girl, and that the diocese failed to report previous sexual abuse by Herrera, as required by state law.

Herrera could not be reached for comment. There was no answer at a phone listing for a Rosendo Herrera in White Deer.

The suit also alleges the diocese conspired to cover up other priests' sexual abuse. Those priests were not named in the suit.

The plaintiffs say the diocese was negligent in hiring Herrera and knew or should have known that he posed a risk.

Herrera, 37, had a history of sexual abuse in Mexico but was ordained in the Amarillo diocese, the suit alleges. The diocese failed to properly investigate Herrera's background, according to the suit.

Herrera was ordained to the diocese in 1996, according to the diocese of Amarillo, and was pastor in Dalhart, Pampa and Amarillo.

The suit claims that in 1997 the Amarillo diocese sent Herrera for counseling related to sexual problems. After the counseling, the suit says, several incidents of improper behavior were reported when he was at two Amarillo churches.

In April 2000, the plaintiffs, unaware of Herrera's background, sought his assistance counseling one of their daughters, the suit claims.

The suit claims that Herrera became involved in improper relationships with three daughters, and that he got one pregnant.

Herrera was placed on administrative leave in 2000 and requested status of a lay church member, which was given, according to the diocese.

Clay Holcomb, attorney for the plaintiffs, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Two priests in the Amarillo diocese resigned shortly after the U.S. Conference of Bishops passed a sexual abuse policy in June that prohibits priests from serving in ministry if they have sexually abused children.

The Rev. Dennis Boylan, pastor of Holy Family Church in Nazareth and Holy Name Church in Happy, and the Rev. Neal Dee, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Groom and St. Mary's Church in Clarendon resigned in early July.

Earlier this year, the Rev. John Anthony Salazar-Jimenez resigned from the Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulia. Before coming to Tulia in 1991, Salazar-Jimenez served nearly three years in prison in California for sexually abusing children.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.