Settlement Reached in Houston Church Sex Abuse Case

By Cindy George
Houston Chronicle
Febriary 4, 2008

Four young men who said they were sexually abused a decade ago by a Catholic seminary student training in Houston have settled their lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and other defendants.

The plaintiffs, listed as John Does I, II, III and IV, claim Juan Carlos Patino Arango molested them in 1996 while he was an intern at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. He was in a pastoral internship to become a deacon, the next step toward priesthood. At least two of the accusers were students at the parish school. All four claim they were inappropriately touched in the seminarian's bedroom in the church rectory.

An order of dismissal signed Monday by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal says lawyers on both sides "advised the court that an amicable settlement has been reached." Lawyers have the right to reinstate the case in three months if the deal falls apart, the judge wrote.

The case named Patino Arango, the archdiocese, Monsignor William Pickard, former Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza and Pope Benedict XVI (when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) as defendants.

The order did not disclose the terms of the agreement.

The suit alleged that the archdiocese was negligent in hiring and supervising Patino Arango. The plaintiffs also claimed church officials failed to report the seminarian's abuse to law enforcement and that the pope conspired with local Catholic officials to cover up the alleged sexual abuse.

Church lawyers said that neither the archdiocese nor its priests were liable for Patino Arango's actions because they could not have foreseen his behavior nor did their decisions cause the boys' abuse.

Parents of the first child to come forward reported the abuse to the church in 1996.

"Patino admitted the abuse," according to a 77-page memo Rosenthal wrote last year summarizing the case. Patino Arango was dismissed from the parish and sent to counseling.

He fled to his native Colombia after being indicted by a Harris County grand jury.

Both Fiorenza, the former head of the diocese, and Pickard, the former pastor of St. Francis who was Patino Arango's supervisor, have retired.

The lawsuit, originally filed in Harris County state court in 2004, was moved to federal court after Ratzinger was added. Rosenthal removed Ratzinger in 2005 after he became the spiritual head of the Catholic Church and Vatican City's leader. A letter from the U.S. State Department giving the pope sovereign immunity as a head of state shielded him from further legal action, the judge ruled.

In September, Rosenthal declined the defendants' request to resolve the case without a trial. Jury selection was scheduled to begin later this month.

Lawyers for both sides could not be reached for comment late Monday.

"We're not making any further comments until this becomes a definite dismissal. Right now, it's still tentative," said diocese spokeswoman Claudia Deschamps.


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