Diocese Pays $500k to Settle Child Abuse Case, Priest Sues the Diocese
February 17, 2012
The Diocese of Monterey has made a half-million dollar payment to an alleged victim of child sexual abuse in a settlement agreement the diocese says does not admit to wrongdoing.
In exchange for the payment the alleged victim, identified in court papers as John RJ Doe, is dropping his lawsuit against the diocese and the alleged perpetrator, Father Edward Fitz-Henry.
The plaintiff's attorney, Vince Finaldi of the Newport Beach-based firm of Manly & Stewart, says the settlement will keep his client from being called to the stand as a witness and therefore protect him from enduring a trying public hearing.
"[The settlement] will allow him to get on with his life," Finaldi says. "It was a way to avoid unnecessary damage to the client and to the diocese. We felt like it was the responsible and right thing to do."
But a new battle is shaping up between Fitz-Henry, who remains suspended from ministry, and the diocese. In a civil complaint filed Jan. 31 in Monterey County Superior Court, Fitz-Henry accuses the church of failing to adequately defend him and his reputation.
The priest's attorney, Dan De Vries of De Vries Law Group in San Juan Bautista, says the settlement—which was paid in full by the diocese, not by Fitz-Henry—just throws Fitz-Henry further under the bus. "The diocese should have defended Father Ed through this ordeal," De Vries says. "Instead they left him out in the cold.
"We would’ve liked to see the diocese stand by their priest," De Vries adds, "and vigorously defend the scurrilous accusations. What motivated the diocese to pay that kind of money instead of vigorously defend Father Ed?"
"It is unfortunate that Fr. Fitz-Henry has decided to take this action," the diocese said in a press release Friday. "Civil courts do not have jurisdiction in internal church governance. The diocese will promptly move for a dismissal."
De Vries has retained a canonical lawyer, Robert Flummerfelt, to advise on church law. In keeping with a procedure established in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the diocese says the next step is to send Fitz-Henry's case to Rome for review. "We plan to do that in the next few weeks," the diocese says in a statement.
Upon review, church officials may opt to strip him of his priesthood. Until then, he continues to receive a church stipend, which continues for the rest of his life. The case details submitted to Rome concern a 1992 incident, not John JR Doe's case that refers to events from 2005-07. The Diocesan Independent Review Board, in investigating the John Doe allegations, found evidence of sexual misconduct 20 years ago "that we previously believed was a non-sexual boundary violation involving a minor."
Any further resolution will be based on civil and canon law. The Salinas Police Department concluded an investigation into the abuse allegations and turned over its findings Oct. 31 to the District Attorney. Deputy DA Terry Spitz says they've declined to file charges. "There isn’t sufficient evidence that a jury of 12 would be comfortable," he says.
Fitz-Henry, 53, is considering whether to relocate from San Benito County, according to De Vries. Pending a decision from the Vatican and Bishop Richard Garcia, he still hopes to return to the active ministry. "He’s trying to maintain a tough upper lip and put his faith in God," De Vries says, "and hopes sometime soon this will be behind him."