Ex-altar boy drops suit against Fresno Diocese

By Pablo Lopez
Fresno Bee
August 13, 2010

A former altar boy has dropped his civil lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, saying Bishop John T. Steinbock didn't commit fraud and in fact took steps to protect children after hearing of sexual molestation allegations against a priest.

"You got to give credit where credit is due," said Sacramento attorney Joe George, who represents the former altar boy.

In April, George filed a civil lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court, saying a Bakersfield parish priest molested his client 17 years ago.
Bakersfield is part of the Fresno diocese.

Because the deadline to file a sexual molestation claim had passed, the lawsuit accused the diocese of committing fraud.

It accused Steinbock of breaking a promise to defrock the priest who allegedly molested the altar boy.

George said Friday that when he filed the lawsuit, he believed his client had been duped, because the accused molester, the Rev. Father Hermy Dave Ceniza, continued to work as a priest in the Philippines.

Before he filed the lawsuit, he said he asked the diocese for a copy of Ceniza's personnel file in July 2009, but church officials refused his request.

"They told me they had to protect the privacy rights of the perpetrator, so the victim felt he had no choice [but] to take legal action," George said.

But in recent weeks, church officials finally turned over the requested documentation, George said.

The documents showed Steinbock had removed Ceniza from the ministry as he had promised, and also sent letters about Ceniza to his former dioceses in San Francisco and the Philippines, he said.

"The bishop took affirmative action not only to protect children in the Fresno diocese, but also at the other dioceses," George said.
Efforts to talk with church officials were unsuccessful Friday.

While suing the Catholic Church for fraud has been tried in other states, if the lawsuit had continued its course in Fresno County Superior Court, it could have been the first time a California judge would have ruled on it.

Read tomorrow's Bee for complete details.


















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