For the first time in the history of the Sacramento Catholic diocese, a judge has ruled that two adults can seek punitive damages in a clergy sex abuse and cover up case involving a priest who is now a fugitive from justice.
The plaintiffs in the civil case, John Doe and Jane Doe, say they were molested by Fr. Gerardo Beltran when they were 10 and 11 years old, respectively. The alleged crimes happened between 1989 and 1991 when they were altar servers at St. Joseph’s Parish in Sacramento.
According to the lawsuit, Fr. Beltran – a native of Mexico – was known to the diocese to be a sexual predator as early as 1988, and had been sent for counseling and treatment before being moved to St. Joseph’s. In the abuse trial of a different priest (Fr. Michael Dermody), then-Bishop Francis Quinn testified that he “had an awareness” of sexual misconduct by Fr. Beltran as early as 1990, and he was being monitored by the diocesan “sensitive issues committee” in 1991. Despite these facts, however, on April 21, 1991, Bishop Quinn assigned Fr. Beltran to a parish in Winters, CA.
Thursday’s ruling by Judge David Brown allows the plaintiffs to seek punitive damages as a result of the Diocese of Sacramento’s negligent retention and fraudulent concealment relating to their handling of Fr. Beltran. In the ruling, Judge Brown notes that the “plaintiffs will meet the clear and convincing standard of proof,” and that “the Diocese had advanced knowledge or ratification of Beltran’s conduct.”
An earlier ruling in March denied the diocese’s motion for a summary judgment, stating “there was admissible evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims for sexual abuse.”
Ordained in 1982, Fr. Beltran fled the US in 1992 to return to Mexico where he served as an active priest. He was apprehended by Mexican authorities in 2008, but was released before he could be extradited to face the criminal charges pending in California. He was laicized by the church in 2008.
The victims in this case are represented by Sacramento attorney Dr. Joseph George (916.641.7300, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The diocese is represented by Stephen J. Greene, Jr. (916.753.1300, email@example.com).
Annette Nestler-SNAP Southern New Jersey