Lawsuit Filed Against Diocese in Antonio Cortes Case
July 21, 2011
About two months after a former Salinas and Greenfield priest was sentenced to a year in jail after raping a 16-year-old boy, the boy has filed a complaint against Father Antonio Cortes and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Monterey for negligence and causing emotional distress.
The boy is identified as John Doe in court papers. “As a result of the abuse suffered, [John Doe] has been robbed of his youth, and his life will never again be the same,” the complaint says. Cortes "used his position of power to shamelessly take advantage of [John Doe,]" violating a "sacred trust" of priests.
Cortes plead no contest to felony sodomy with a minor, felony possession of child pornography and 12 misdemeanor counts including child molestation, child endangerment, furnishing alcohol to a minor and committing lewd acts in the presence of a minor. He was sentenced in May to one year in the county jail by Monterey Superior Court Judge Terrance R. Duncan. Cortes also is required to register as a sex offender.
The complaint details much of what emerged in the criminal proceedings, describing some 20 "spiritual massages" beginning when the boy was 13 years old, leading eventually to rape in 2009, at which point the victim told a teacher who notified law enforcement.
But the lawsuit also criticizes the Catholic establishment for allowing the abuse to occur: “The Catholic Bishops in the United States, and specifically the Roman Catholic Bishop of Monterey, did nothing to put in place meaningful policies and procedures for identifying, reporting and dismissing priests who were unfit to occupy positions of trust and spiritual guidance in the community, and especially around children.”
The complaint goes on to condemn the Church's 2004 Safe Environment Program as "little more than a public relations attempt to boost the Church's sagging image,” and also to criticize the diocese for keeping Cortes in the priesthood for 15 years, “during which time he has been shuffled from parish to parish without explanation.”
Such administrative behavior of moving around alleged offenders may also have been in play in the case of Fr. Edward Fitz-Henry, currently the subject of a criminal investigation and a pending civil suit, based on parts of a deposition.
No one from the Diocese of Monterey was immediately available for comment. Following criminal proceedings, Bishop Garcia made a public offer of counseling to the victim and family, as well as any other victims of sexual abuse.
The diocese stripped Cortes of his priestly faculties, and submitted details of his case to Rome for further review under Church law. Unless he is officially removed from the priesthood, Cortes will continue to receive a stipend for living expenses in keeping with church policy.
The complaint, filed July 11 in Monterey Superior Court, comes months after 37 Philadelphia priests were suspended and the diocese was implicated in offering alleged offenders a safe haven. A grand jury report there determined, "The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself." Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia resigned his post this week.