Unsealing the Truth

The Diocese of Monterey (above) has fought to keep documents in the case of Father Edward Fitz-Henry from scrutiny.

A judge has issued a preliminary decision that the Monterey County Weekly can obtain documents in the case of Father Edward Fitz-Henry, a Catholic priest suspended amid allegations he molested a teenage parishioner at Madonna del Sasso Church in Salinas, and may have abused other young boys in the Monterey Diocese decades ago.

Monterey Superior Court Judge Tom Wills’ decision comes after the Weekly filed a motion to intervene in a suit brought by the most recent alleged victim. The man, now in his early 20s, claimed Fitz-Henry assaulted him multiple times while at Madonna del Sasso starting around 2005. The Weekly’s aim is to unseal documents filed in the case, as well as obtain other evidence like deposition transcripts.

Wills issued the preliminary ruling on Nov. 6, but it wasn’t given to reporters until Nov. 13. The Weekly broke the story online.

“We’re grateful the court’s preliminary ruling recognizes the public interest in disclosure of the information,” says Weekly attorney Roger Myers of the San Francisco firm Bryan Cave LLP. “It’s important this order be affirmed at the hearing so the public can know how the Diocese responded to the allegations against Father Fitz-Henry.”

In making his preliminary ruling, Wills ordered the deposition of Don Cline, a former Salinas cop hired by the Diocese to investigate the abuse allegations, to be redacted, meaning portions of the text will be removed or blacked out.

Wills also ordered Fitz-Henry’s own deposition transcript to be redacted, and ordered the same for the deposition of Agnes Leonardich, the former Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese, and Father Nicholas Milich, a priest who allegedly knew about the recent allegations against Fitz-Henry but failed to alert authorities as required by law.

Wills further ordered that any information about psychotherapy and psychological counseling Fitz-Henry received – whether locally or at Servants of the Paraclete, a treatment center for troubled priests in Jemez Springs, New Mexico – be withheld.

Fitz-Henry was never charged with a crime in the John Doe case, and the Diocese settled with the alleged victim for $500,000, with neither party admitting wrongdoing.

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While the Diocese claims the victim’s allegations in that case were not credible, the Diocese says it found evidence that accusations of abuse brought by a Carmel family in 1992 were true.

Fitz-Henry was sent to the Paraclete in 1990 after the family complained about the priest’s behavior toward their 14-year-old son at Carmel Mission School. In a 2007 letter to Bishop Richard Garcia, the mother claimed former Diocese attorney Albert Ham assured her Fitz-Henry “would never be placed in an assignment where he would be around children again.”

The judge’s order doesn’t mean the immediate release of any documents; the parties in the case, including the Weekly, are due to return to court on Dec. 9 for oral arguments on the decision.

Further, Wills said he would consider staying his decision for 30 days following the hearing in case any party – the Diocese, Fitz-Henry or the Weekly – wants to appeal his decision.

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