Diocese settles suit over claims former Mission priest abused boy

Father Edward Fitz-Henry, shown in this 2007 file photo, has

About a year after the allegations went public, the Diocese of Monterey has settled a lawsuit involving suspicions that a former Mission San Juan Bautista priest in 2005 sexually abused a then 14-year-old member of the Madonna Del Sasso parish in Salinas.

The diocese settled with the accuser for $500,000 in the civil case involving former Mission priest Father Edward Fitz-Henry, according to an announcement from the Diocese of Monterey. The accuser filed the civil lawsuit in February 2011.

Friday’s statement from the church organization pointed out that the settlement did not “admit any liability on the part of either Fr. Fitz-Henry or the Diocese” and that it releases both parties from further monetary liability. The settlement amount was negotiated between the two parties.

Fitz-Henry has denied the allegations and filed a cross claim against Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia alleging misconduct in the aftermath of the revelations last year. The diocese in its statement contended the bishop followed proper “procedures to protect children” as outlined in church documents.

The diocese paid for the settlement through a “combination of Diocesan insurance reserves and insurance coverage,” while Fitz-Henry did not contribute to it, according to the announcement.

Fitz-Henry’s attorney Dan De Vries did not immediately return a phone call.

Diocese spokesman Tom Riordan said the case is being sent to Roman officials who will decide the next steps for the Roman Catholic Church, which could include varying levels of suspension, a church trial or offering him the chance to spend his life in prayer and penance.

Fitz-Henry for now is not allowed to function as a priest. He has left the parish and lives with friends, Riordan said.

“I just always want to reiterate, we take this so seriously, all these issues around a safe environment for our children – we really do live it,” said Riordan, offering the example that all volunteers are now fingerprinted.

Fitz-Henry also was the focus of a Salinas Police Department investigation in the matter. Salinas police have forwarded a report to the district attorney, but a spokeswoman for the Monterey district attorney’s office, Sherri Hall, did not immediately return a phone call.

The civil lawsuit alleged that Fitz-Henry discussed sexual issues with the then 14-year-old victim that eventually escalated to sexual touching. Also listed in the lawsuit are Garcia and Madonna Del Sasso Parish.

The Monterey Diocese suspended Fitz-Henry, who had spent 15 years at the Mission in two separate stints, on Jan. 7 of last year after the Roman Catholic Church first received information regarding the alleged incident.

During the church’s investigation of the suspected crimes, investigators also found new information about a previous relationship 20 years earlier and moved to suspend Fitz-Henry indefinitely.

The diocese knew of the previous incident before the latest revelations, but claimed its sexual nature was unknown before last year’s developments. The diocese knew of a strong professional relationship in Carmel but did not believe it was sexual. The new information came from the previous victim during the investigation into the 2005 matter.

Fitz-Henry was a pastor at the San Juan Bautista Mission from 1994 to 2005 and returned in 2007 until he was suspended. He worked at Madonna Del Sasso from 2005 to 2007.

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