Diocese of Yakima announces audit results

Investigation of past sexual misconduct cases brought to light once again

Columbia Basin Herald Online/November 20, 2003
By Sebastian Moraga

The fight for truth and healing continues around the Diocese of Yakima.

With the publication of a press release, titled "Peace and Justice Through Forgiveness," the diocese's bishop Carlos Sevilla addresses not only a number of cases of sexual misconduct and abuse that have occurred throughout the decades, but the recent review of files that took place to bring those cases and others to the eyes of the public.

The audit, the diocese's press release reads, was requested by Sevilla about a year ago, and brought to light "once again" four cases of sexual misconduct by former members of the diocese dating as far back as the 1960s.

Though Sevilla declined to comment for this article, the release states the audit is the result of the procedures put in place by American bishops to "bring justice and healing to perpetrators and victims of sexual misconduct in their dioceses and across the nation."

The cases include the accusation towards then-Deacon Aaron Ramirez, who would flee to Mexico (and later be expelled from the church by papal decree), a case from 1960 settled four years ago, a case from the 1970s settled last year, and another unsettled case from the 1960s that led the victim to file suit against the dioceses of Yakima and Spokane.

Moreover, the release states the victims were subsequently contacted, with four of them choosing not to continue contact with the diocese and six of them receiving "therapeutic assistance paid for by the diocese."

In addition, the release lists the costs involved with the audit, from settlements and rehabilitation of priests and victims to attorney fees, totaling above half a million dollars, paid, according to the release, from the diocese's investment income or its general fund.

Regarding the possibility of backlash against the church for funding the priests' rehabilitation, the release states that "Jesus does not see it that way. He died for even the worst and most scandalous of sinners. If we as his disciples must lay down our lives of one another, then...for Jesus' sake we must be willing to sacrifice our most precious possessions for the healing and well-being of perpetrators of sexual misconduct."

To Father John Morse of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Moses Lake, the purpose of the audit was to make (diocese members) more aware of their own personal responsibilities and the responsibility of their communities.

"It was done quite quickly in this diocese," he said. "I can't comment for the rest of the country."

Morse declined to comment on the particular cases mentioned in the press release, however, he did say he trusted the diocese of Yakima to be as open as they should be. "I have seen the diocese keep communication with the people as thoroughly as possible, and people have been satisfied with that openness.

Another aspect that members of the diocese say is working well is the relationship of children towards members of the clergy. Father Seamus Kerr, pastor of both the Saint Rose of Lima Church and School in Ephrata said the rapport between children and him has not deteriorated since the controversy hitting the Catholic Church started making nationwide headlines.

"The children love me, and I love them," he said. "I have received no reports from the teachers of students asking questions or being affected by (the situation). It's a blessing."

The director of the school was not available for comment.

At the same time, Royal City permanent deacon Frank "Paco" Martinez, stated that repercussions have not been felt among the local adult Catholic communities. " Nobody left or stopped going to church," he said, adding that most of the faithful focused instead on moving forward and facing the issue.

"Our bishop did not bury his head in the sand," Martinez said, "he was determined to go forward and fixing the problem."

Martinez said that one of the ways the diocese faced the topic was by holding orientation sessions. "Everybody involved with the church had to go to them," Martinez, who as permanent deacon can be and is married with children, "they talked to us about what to be careful about."

Such things include, Martinez said," risking the misinterpretation of a hug or of touching hands or touching hair. The Mexican-born Martinez said that this presents a particular situation to Hispanics.

"One of the problems with Hispanics is that we are very given to affection," he said. "It is very common for us to touch," However, Martinez noted other cultures see it differently and may react differently as well.

The precautions Martinez said the church directed the to take not only have ethnicity as its focus but gender. "For example, if a woman seeks our advice,they told us to (meet) in a public place, not in a private place. It's a simple thing, but it is done to avoid rumors and criticism."

While Martinez sustains that there is indeed a problem, "when one lives in the flesh, one has the tendency to sin," he said the problem has been overplayed by what he sees as a nationwide liberal bias by part of the media. "The media is always grabbing the news they know have a bigger impact," he said.

Martinez added, "You can see it in the movies from Hollywood, always putting the church down."

At the same time, Martinez said that mistakes had been made, due in his opinion to what he saw as weakness of the flesh, fueled in people who "let themselves go" by what their instincts told them.

Morse called the incidents " inexcusable, but they do not reflect the overall behavior of the clergy within the church."

Martinez said the Catholic authorities back in the 1960s were "naive" in dealing with these cases. "There was the idea of rehab for these people back in the 1960s," he said. "The problem (of pedophilia) was not as known, so these people went from the church to rehabilitation and after they left rehab they were thought of as cured."

Then, Martinez said, once these people committed pedophilic acts again, they were sent either back to rehab or to another church. "They were naive," he said of the church, "They had never had these types of cases and they thought people were already cured."

Nowadays, Morse said, "background checks were expected to be implemented for anybody who works through the diocese." However, Martinez said that those found guilty of committing pedophilic acts, as well as those witnessing the crisis that unraveled afterwards cannot blame them on the fact that the church forbids priests to marry. "That has nothing to do with this," Martinez said, adding that "it is not a case of this not happening if they (pedophiles) were married. In the outside world most pedophiles are married.

Furthermore, Martinez said that though the church may have been naive, it cannot always be blamed for a person's mental defect. "It's the individual's person's problem," he said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.