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Diocese Lockdown Priest case will proceed more privately, judge admonishes attorneys for talking.

Diocese Lockdown

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Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 12:00 am

Six months after the Diocese of Monterey launched an internal investigation into claims the pastor of the Old Mission San Juan Bautista church molested a teenage boy in 2005, documents filed in a civil suit show the diocese knew about misconduct that happened 20 years ago. 


In excerpts of a deposition with Father Edward Fitz-Henry, who was suspended from his duties in January, Fitz-Henry says he was relocated from a parish in Carmel in 1992 when a family there complained about his behavior with one of their teenage sons. “They thought I had shown too much affection or interest or friendship towards their son,” Fitz-Henry said. 


And according to the deposition, the diocese in 2007 moved Fitz-Henry out of Madonna del Sasso after the mother of that Carmel family wrote a letter. The contents of that letter are unknown, but from questions that follow, it appears that mother may have complained about Fitz-Henry’s presence at Madonna, which is in Salinas.


The Weekly is not identifying the Carmel family. 


“Did the bishop do anything else to placate Mrs. [name redacted] other than to move you out of Madonna del Sasso?” asks John Manly, the attorney for the alleged victim from 2005 who is now suing Fitz-Henry, the church and the diocese. Fitz-Henry answers: “I don’t know.”


Fitz-Henry says he was sent three times to a therapy center for priests known as Servants of the Paraclete, a facility in New Mexico that specializes in treating sexual afflictions.


But history like this may now be kept out of the public record, after Monterey Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled June 17 to grant a protective order to Fitz-Henry and the diocese in the ongoing civil lawsuit. Attorneys on both sides now will be required to file all documents under seal; Wills then will decide whether or not to unseal them and make them public.


“It’s the court’s conclusion there is risk of tainting the jury pool,” Wills said, citing concerns about media coverage. 


Christine Breen, an attorney with the De Vries Law Group representing Fitz-Henry, says Fitz-Henry’s reputation has already been compromised. “You can’t unring the bell,” she says. “Once you’re accused of something like this, even if you’re exonerated, the damage has already been done.” 


Breen and attorneys representing the diocese have been unwilling to cooperate with document requests from attorneys for the alleged 2005 victim, described in court papers as “John RJ Doe.” Breen says that now, under the protection granted by Wills last week, she’ll provide documents Manly’s co-counsel, Vince Finaldi, has been requesting for months, including employee reviews, though she plans to keep psychiatric records private. 


“Superior court actions are public proceedings,” Finaldi wrote in an email included in the case file. “They are not conducted as secret trials.” 


The documents filed in the court also show a deteriorating relationship between the attorneys. Diocese attorney Paul Gaspari wrote in response to the incriminating deposition: “The fact that Plaintiff felt the need to file an improper extra brief speaks volumes [and] is designed to harass and embarrass respondent.” 


Fitz-Henry is living in San Juan Bautista and will continue to receive a stipend for his living expenses from the diocese until he dies or is removed from the priesthood. “He misses the ministry,” Breen says.

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