El Paso Catholic Diocese to pay $1.6M in abuse suit settlement

The El Paso Catholic Diocese will pay $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit involving allegations of sexual impropriety against a former Cathedral High School principal, a law firm announced Friday.

Officials of the law firm of T.O. Gilstrap said the lawsuit alleged that Brother Samuel Martinez abused or molested numerous boys, including the two plaintiffs who filed the suit. It states that the incidents occurred during Martinez’s tenure at the school. He was principal from 1976 to 1985.
Cathedral is a top private Catholic high school for boys in the El Paso region.

The Brothers of the Christian Schools, District of New Orleans-Santa Fe (NOSF), was under contract to run the school at the time.

“The lawsuit, which was filed in Santa Fe in the 1st Judicial District Court of New Mexico, alleged that Brother Martinez sexually abused the plaintiffs while they were students at Cathedral in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” said S. Clark Harmonson, one of the lawyers with the T.O. Gilstrap firm.
The diocese will pay $1.6 million to the plaintiffs.

The Rev. Anthony C. Celino, the El Paso Catholic Diocese vicar general and moderator of the curia, said Cathedral High School was incorporated in 1993 under a nonprofit designation as Cathedral High School Inc. and has a policy on sexual misconduct and safe environment.
“This includes background checks for all employees and those who work directly with students,” Celino said.

“They conduct sexual misconduct and safe environment training for all employees and those who work directly with students. They follow the reporting laws as provided in the Texas Civil Statute.

“Additionally, every year the school designates a day to discuss with all students a student safety awareness with regards to sexual misconduct and manner of reporting to school authorities, should such things occur.”
Celino said Martinez is in a retirement home outside of the El Paso Catholic Diocese and does not function in any ministerial capacity.

Catholic officials apparently had sent Martinez to El Paso after other complaints surfaced against him in another state.

“Allegations of sexual impropriety against Brother Martinez arose in 1971 at a school operated by NOSF Inc. in New Orleans, Louisiana,” Harmonson said.
“(He) was thereafter transferred to Cathedral High School following these allegations and a 100-day stay in Santa Fe at a retreat center operated by a religious order affiliated with NOSF Inc.”

“Part of our claim was for future therapy,” Harmonson said. “We hope and expect our clients to use part of the settlement funds to receive therapy.”
Harmonson said the diocese and the Christian Brothers order had a chance to prevent the abuse but didn’t.

“Instead of taking action then, Martinez was given a 100-day vacation at a retreat center in Santa Fe and then transferred to Cathedral High,” the lawyer said.

“There have been upwards of 10 allegations of abuse against Brother Martinez here in El Paso.”

The Brothers of the Christian Schools had prepared a document in 2004 titled “This safety plan is designed for Bro. SM (Sam Martinez).”

The document said Martinez had spent four months at a treatment center on the East Coast.

“Beginning in 1992, several complaints were raised about his improper behavior with students when he served as principal of a high school,” the religious order’s document said. “These complaints have to do with what allegedly occurred between 1981 and 1985.”

That document said that two other lawsuits were filed against Martinez, in 2004 and 2007, and subsequently settled.

Lawyers for T.O. Gilstrap of El Paso have represented at least 12 people who have made claims against the diocese, as well as survivors of sexual abuse against other religious denominations and institutions, including the Mormon church, the Methodist church, the Assembly of God church, the Boy Scouts of America and hospitals.

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Church: Springs priest faces sex-abuse probe

After learning their pastor has been accused of sexually abusing a child, the shocked congregation of St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church was left in silence Saturday night.

The Rev. Rafael Torres-Rico told the packed, 1,100-member church during the 5 p.m. Mass that The Rev. Charles Robert Manning is being investigated by Colorado Springs police for “sexual abuse of a minor.”

No other details of the allegations against Manning were shared with the congregation, some of whom were in tears by the end of Torres-Rico’s announcement.

“It is important to remember that in both civil and canon law Father Manning is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Torres-Rico told the church.

The allegations were brought to the police on Jan. 4, and Manning has since been asked to step down, Torres-Rico said.

Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Barbara Miller said she was not aware of the investigation and had no comment.

St. Gabriel’s, on Scarborough Drive in one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in eastern Colorado Springs, opened its doors in 1998. The church, near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Research Parkway, hosts five services per weekend for its growing congregation, according to the church’s website.

The church does not allow children under 12 years old to attend mass alone. At Saturday’s mass the congregation was reminded to accompany children under 12 anywhere in the building, including to the restroom.

Church-goers refused to comment as they left the service. Church officials had no immediate comment.

No criminal record for Manning can be found in Colorado. An online search shows that Manning has served in three parishes over the past decade.

In a 2002 posting on a Catholic website, a C. Robert Manning identified himself as pastor of St. Lawrence the Martyr Church in Bridgeton, Mo.

From 2004 to 2007, Manning headed a Catholic church in Imperial, Mo. There, he oversaw efforts to revive the church’s school, which faced falling attendance, according to the church website. The school closed in 2007, the year Manning came to Colorado Springs.

In 2010, Manning was named chaplain of the year by the Colorado branch of Knights of Columbus.

The Catholic Church has battled allegations of sex abuse by priests for years, including a revelation in 2010 that the former priest Divine Redeemer, in Monument, was accused of a sex abuse against a child in Denver.

When the priest, the Rev. Mel Thompson, was accused in 2010 of molesting a Denver boy, there had been 50 similar cases within the Denver Archdiocese over a five-year span.

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How long will church be allowed to keep its dangerous secrets?

An American priest, who has been financially supported for the past five years by the priest and parishioners of a Vancouver Catholic church, has been convicted of sexually molesting a minor by an ecclesiastical tribunal in Pennsylvania.

In its decision, reached last October, the tribunal recommended to the Vatican that Eric Ensey be dismissed as a priest.

“The tribunal reached moral certitude that Ensey had indeed committed the offences of which he was accused,” Fr. Tom Doyle wrote in letters sent last week to Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller and John Horgan, the priest at Saints Peter and Paul Church.

Doyle, a Dominican priest and canonical lawyer, represented the victims.

“I realize that Ensey and his cohorts continue to insist on their innocence,” he wrote. “They have masked themselves with a deceitful veil of traditional orthodoxy, which has proven successful in duping a number of people. Unfortunately there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

The tribunal spent nearly three years investigating Ensey, who since 2002 has been restricted from doing any ministerial work, presenting him-self as a priest, wearing clerical garb or performing any sacred functions.

Horgan passed none of that information on to parishioners.

“I told them he [Ensey] was a student priest,” Horgan told me in December. “I did not go into all the details because, in this case, I though the charity we were doing for him was sufficient. That may well have been a mistake of prudence on my part.”

At that time, Horgan also told me he was “fully aware” of the tribunal proceedings.

Horgan’s fundraising stopped in December after Miller ordered an end to soliciting and accepting tax-deductible donations for Ensey, other members of the Society of St. John, the seminary it runs in Paraguay, and an associated orphanage.

Ensey is appealing the tribunal’s decision, Doyle said in a telephone interview from Virginia. The appeal will be heard by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body once known as the Inquisition.

“Ensey’s chances of winning an appeal are about as good as that of a rabbi being elected pope,” said Doyle, who has been involved in many similar cases since the first one in 1985 when he worked in the Vatican’s embassy in Washington, D.C.

The congregation will likely decide fairly quickly. But it doesn’t make its decisions public. The Vatican also provides no public access to its list of so-called defrocked priests.

It’s not clear how much money the Vancouver parish raised to support Ensey or whether they were given tax receipts for those donations. Horgan, however, told parishioners that he had been giving a third of his salary to the disgraced priest.

The archbishop’s direction to stop collecting donations resulted from parishioners’ complaints.

Nearly 10 years ago, Ensey was stripped of ministerial duties after a former seminarian filed a civil lawsuit alleging that he’d been sexually abused by Ensey and Carlos Urruti-goity, who is now a monsignor in Paraguay.

Ensey and Urrutigoity founded the Society of St. John in Pennsylvania. But the bishop there “suppressed” or disbanded it in 2004 because of allegations of rampant sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement.

Soon after the diocese had negotiated a $425,000, out-of-court settlement in the sexual abuse lawsuit in 2005, Ensey fled to Rome without the bishop’s permission.

Had Ensey followed orders and remained in Pennsylvania, he would not have needed the Vancouver parish’s charity. He could have collected a salary until the case was finalized.

Even so, it’s unlikely Vancouver parishioners would have financed his studies if they’d known Ensey was under investigation for sexual abuse, or helped a Paraguayan society whose leaders are also alleged sexual abusers and financial mis-managers.

But they didn’t know. Horgan’s lapses of judgment. The archbishop’s seeming lack of oversight. The Vatican’s hands-off approach that allowed the Society of St. John to be reconstituted in Paraguay and its leaders to oversee a seminary that graduated 36 priests last year.

And the Vatican’s continued secrecy regarding those who are being investigated or have been defrocked.

How long will Catholic faithful allow this to go on? They’ve already spent hundreds of millions of dollars defending priests and compensating their victims.

Vancouver Catholics dug deep to raise $19 million in 2002 for victims of the Christian Brothers’ Mount Cashel orphanage to avoid selling St. Thomas More College and Vancouver College.

If protecting children and youth isn’t a priority for church leaders, parishioners should, at very least, demand they do a better job of risk management.

Complete Article HERE!

Priest who fathered child removed from New York church

A newly installed Roman Catholic priest has been removed from his suburban New York parish after church officials on Thursday said he secretly fathered a child while attending seminary.

The removal of Reverend Casmir Mung’aho, 34, from his post at St. Stephen the First Martyr Church in the Orange County town of Warwick, New York, comes two weeks after the resignation of a Los Angeles assistant bishop who admitted he had two children.

Mung’aho was asked to step down after officials learned he fathered a child in a consensual relationship with an adult woman during his first year of seminary school, Bishop Dominick Lagonegro said in a statement.

While Mung’aho was removed from the congregation in Warwick, it was not yet clear whether he will remain a priest or be defrocked by the New York Archdiocese, said archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling. He said officials had yet to discuss with Mung’aho what action will be taken.

“Father never revealed this to our bishops or seminary authorities, which he certainly should have done,” Lagonegro said in a statement.

“Given the need for Father Casmir to address this matter and reflect on his responsibilities in a very serious way, his assignment to St. Stephen’s is now ended. Please pray for him, as well as for the mother and the child whose lives are so precious.”

The Catholic Church requires celibacy from its priests.

When asked how the church found out about the young child, the Rev. Michael McLoughlin, St. Stephen’s pastor, declined to elaborate to Reuters.

“We’re all sad and we’re all praying for him,” McLoughlin said. “Everything is out there now and other than that I have nothing to say.”

Attempts to reach Mung’aho were not immediately successful. According to his biography published in the New York archdiocese’s official newspaper last year, he grew up in Tanzania and came to the United States about six years ago. As a child, he had always dreamed of becoming a priest.

“The support and respect for the church in general is very high,” he said in his biography. “I see myself here being a model. It’s being an example every day.”

Mung’aho graduated from St. Joseph’s Seminary school in Yonkers, just north of New York City, last year before taking a position at the church in Warwick, a town about 60 miles north of New York City.

Earlier this month, Gabino Zavala, an assistant bishop of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles, resigned after admitting he had a secret family and the two teenage children he fathered were living with their mother in another state.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic bishop sues priest for speaking against homosexuality

The soon-to-be Bishop of Fresno, Calif., has filed a lawsuit against a problematic and outspoken priest in the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, alleging financial irregularities and violations of diocesan policy on the handling of parish funds. The priest claims he is being unjustly punished for speaking out against homosexuality.

El Paso Bishop Armando Ochoa, named as the new Bishop of Fresno on Dec. 1, issued a press release last week outlining his reasons for filing the lawsuit against Fr. Michael Rodriguez. (A Mass of Installation for Bishop Ochoa is scheduled in Fresno on Feb. 2.)

“As Bishop and shepherd of the Diocese of El Paso, I have a pastoral duty to safeguard the resources of the diocese and each individual parish,” said Bishop Ochoa in the Jan. 11 press release. “This includes a fiduciary responsibility to hold accountable all those who manage the financial affairs of each parish, especially those in administration.”

According to the bishop, Fr. Rodriguez was removed as administrator of San Juan Bautista Parish in El Paso on Sept. 20, 2011 “based on credible information and documents that show that he intentionally and materially failed to comply with the Manual of Policies and Procedures of Parish Finances of the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso.”

“Fr. Rodriguez’s handling and use of donated funds has compromised the financial integrity of San Juan Bautista,” Bishop Ochoa said in the press release. “I have appealed repeatedly to Fr. Rodriguez to make a complete disclosure and a thorough accounting of his financial administration of the parish but he has refused to do so.”

The bishop said Fr. Rodriguez’s refusal to provide financial information left him with no alternative but to take the “extraordinary measure” of filing a lawsuit against the priest and his brother, David Rodriguez.

The suit seeks a full accounting of San Juan Bautista’s finances during Fr. Rodriguez’s tenure there and recovery of “any funds that may have been misappropriated.”

“Fr. Rodriguez and those acting in concert with him, had no right to appropriate for themselves funds donated to the parish…” said the bishop’s press release. “We are mere administrators of the Church’s temporal goods and we all must be accountable for all things entrusted to us.”

Bishop Ochoa and Fr. Rodriguez have been at odds since 2010, when the priest began attending city council meetings to speak out against homosexuality. Fr. Rodriguez also authored several opinion pieces in the El Paso Times critical of the El Paso City Council for extending health insurance to all employees regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

When Fr. Rodriguez became involved in a recall campaign against some in city government responsible for that policy, Bishop Ochoa removed him as parish administrator. “This type of intervention in the political process by religious organizations such as the Diocese of El Paso and San Juan Bautista Church is not permitted under Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code,” said Bishop Ochoa in a statement issued at the time.

Fr. Rodriguez denies any wrongdoing and vows to fight on.

“It is unfortunate that Bishop Armando Ochoa, Administrator of the Diocese of El Paso and no longer our bishop, has decided to pursue legal action against me,” he said in a Jan. 12 statement. “Such legal action is unjust.”

“Over the course of 9 1/2 years as the parish priest of San Juan Bautista Catholic Church, I poured my heart and soul into caring for this parish, both in terms of temporal goods, and especially spiritual goods,” continued Fr. Rodriguez. “I’m confident that hundreds of my former parishioners will eagerly testify to this.”

“In his January 11, 2012, press release, Bishop Ochoa stated, ‘Fr. Rodriguez’s handling and use of donated funds has compromised the financial integrity of San Juan Bautista.’ This is not true,” said the embattled priest. “Bishop Ochoa’s statement also refers to ‘Fr. Rodriguez’s mishandling of funds.’ Again, this is not true. I have always honored, respected, and made good use of the financial patrimony of San Juan Bautista. I stake my entire reputation on this claim.”

According to Fr. Rodriguez, he met with Bishop Ochoa on Sept. 20, 2011, and “opened my heart to my bishop, like a son to a father, and was completely honest and forthcoming with him as to the financial affairs of San Juan Bautista. I told him everything. He chose not to believe me… I have never misappropriated or misused parish funds.”

Fr. Rodriguez said “the real reason” for Bishop Ochoa’s lawsuit against him “is due to my defense of the Catholic Church’s teaching with regard to homosexuality as well as my adherence to the Roman Liturgy of 1962.” He said he would “continue to proclaim and teach the truths of the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the area of sexual morality, no matter the cost” and would also “continue to adhere to the Ancient Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, no matter the cost.”

Complete Article HERE!