After Settlement, Finding Peace is a Struggle
Chico Chavez settled with the church a year ago.
He's yet to forget the abuse.
By Jennifer Garza -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Chico Chavez slumps on the bench and again wonders if he can do
He is sitting in front of the library at the University of California,
Davis. At 38, he has returned to college and is preparing for finals.
Chavez doesn't have to be here on this hot June afternoon. He could
be home relaxing by the pool in the backyard of his new, 3,700-
square-foot house. He could be vacationing with his wife, Kris,
and their two sons. He could be enjoying the life a $4.25 million
But Chavez still works and goes to school because he believes he
If he does well, he would be one step further from his past --
the scared boy who was too afraid to tell anyone he had been raped
by the family priest, the teenager who hid behind alcohol and drugs,
the angry man who didn't trust anyone and hated the church.
And so he is here.
Chavez looks at the students walking across the quad.
"They are so much smarter than me," he says.
Chavez plans to spend the next eight hours -- until the librarian
turns off the lights at midnight -- studying for his "Rousseau
and Nietzsche" class final. He worries about his grades.
"Maybe if I hadn't been molested by my priest my life would
be different, school would be easier. Who knows? I can't do anything
about the past now."
Chavez sighs deeply and stands up. He gathers his books and slowly
makes his way to the library, weighed down by his backpack and his
A year ago, Chavez stood on the steps of the Sacramento Superior
Court with his wife and children nearby.
It was the day officials with the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento
announced that they had agreed to pay $35 million to 33 victims
to settle claims of clergy sexual abuse.
The California settlements were the highest in the country, the
result of state legisla- tion in 2002 that temporarily lifted the
statute of limitations on such civil cases for one year. The minimum
paid out to each Sacramento plaintiff was $400,000.
Chavez, who says he was sexually molested by a former Sacramento
priest over a 10-year period, was awarded the most. The amount of
his settlement has not been disclosed previously.
Chavez's settlement is believed to be "one of the top two
or three largest" individual settlements in the country, according
to David Clohessy national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network
of Those Abused by Priests.
But a year after the court case ended, Chavez struggles to find
While years of therapy have helped, Chavez says he feels guilty
about what "I did with that priest." He has nightmares
and insomnia. He has difficulty forming close friendships. He refuses
to allow anyone but his sister and in-laws to baby-sit his children.
He has broken ties with most of his family.
Chavez says he is fortunate in terms of the settlement, but adds
in the next breath, "I would give it all back for my childhood."
Those who work with survivors say there are many victims like Chavez.
For the past few years, they have focused their energy on their
court cases, bringing their predators to justice and fighting the
Now, the legal proceedings have ended, and the victims have to
face what happened to them as children.
"There's a temptation to say once a case is settled, that
everything's over," says Clohessy. "What I say to a survivor
is, 'Hey, congratulations on your settlement, but you'll likely
have the same nightmares, the same insomnia and addictions and insecurities
that you did before.' "
Since ending litigation, Clohessy says, the victims are "all
over the map." Some have adjusted well. A couple did not and
have committed suicide. But most, he says, are like Chavez: "Trying
to work things out."
Chavez is not looking for easy answers. He is grateful for a wife
who has stood by him, his children, his employers. But, happiness?
"I don't know if that will ever happen," says Chavez.
"I'm just looking for some kind of peace."
That's why he's going to school. Chavez sees it as a step in his
recovery, a step away from that little boy who remembers the priest
calling him stupid.
The cycle begins
Chavez was about 5 when he met the Rev. Mario Blanco. Musically
talented, Blanco had promised Chavez's parents that he would teach
the kids music and form a Mexican band singing Norteño-style
The father was so pleased that he built a stage area in the corner
of the basement. The group played at local churches and made two
Chavez's father worked long hours as a landscaper. His mother was
ill. Chavez says that one afternoon Blanco grabbed and molested
him. Chavez was too ashamed and frightened to tell anyone. The cycle
Chavez says he was molested repeatedly for the next 10 years. He
suspected his brother David also was being molested, and when he
was a teenager, he learned that two of his brothers also had been
The four teenage boys told the priest repeatedly not to come around,
but Chavez says Blanco kept stalking them. One day Jaime chased
Blanco with a baseball bat.
The priest stopped coming around.
Sixteen of the 33 cases the diocese settled involved Blanco. The
victims are all men who came from poor or working-class Latino families
whose parents spoke little English. The priest allegedly threatened
to have his victims' families deported if they told anyone. Blanco
served in the diocese from Oct. 23, 1969, to April 5, 1973, and
was dismissed following a church investigation into allegations
of sexual misconduct. He remained in the area for several years
Blanco, 77, is now a schismatic priest associated with a "traditionalist"
Tacoma, Wash., church that does not recognize Vatican authority.
Criminal charges could not be brought against Blanco because the
statute of limitations had run out. David, Jaime and Javier Chavez
also sued and received settlements.
Blanco has denied the allegations.
"I don't understand why the diocese settled," he said
after learning of the agreement last year.
Money a strong force
After the settlement was awarded, the Chavez family moved into
a new, five-bedroom home in West Sacramento. Everything they owned
fit into their garage.
Chico Chavez never had a lot of money growing up. He's always worked
for a nonprofit. Kris worked in day care. For years the family lived
in a crowded, two-bedroom North Sacramento apartment.
Chico and Kris Chavez are determined to be financially conservative
with the settlement money. The house is their biggest purchase.
Money changes people -- and the couple have noticed. "People
approach me and start talking about their money problems; it's weird,"
says Chavez. The Chavezes have a financial adviser and the money
is invested for the long term. They are not spending lavishly.
Kris Chavez is now able to stay home full time with their sons,
Miguel, 6, and Marcos, 2. Chico Chavez pays for his therapy and
his education. They have given generously to charities, particularly
those that help abused children. They donated $40,000 to the Survivors
Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Chavez continues working at California Emergency Food Link in Sacramento,
where he trains mostly parolees and recovering drug addicts for
His boss, Margaret Healey, has nothing but praise for Chavez.
"He's a tireless worker and very compassionate," says
Healey. "He's probably the most honest and reflective person
I've ever met in my life."
Chavez continues to work because he worries that he "has not
done enough to make up for the things I did."
Intellectually, Chavez knows he's not at fault for the abuse, but
he still blames himself.
Healey, a Catholic, says she is upset with how the church treated
Chavez, who she has known for six years.
"I've watched him grow; he's really trying to change his life
and put this behind him."
Darkness before the climb
The turning point came 6 1/2 years ago when Chavez, again, came
home drunk late one night. His wife, who was pregnant with Miguel,
threatened to leave him if he didn't stop drinking.
"That was the lowest point for me," he says. "I
couldn't bear losing her."
Chavez, who started drinking when he was a teenager, stopped. He
tried Alcoholics Anonymous, but says he couldn't handle the thought
of a sponsor, the thought of getting close to someone. Instead,
he told people at work that he was an alcoholic.
"They're the ones who held me accountable, and of course,
He also started therapy, which he says saved his life. For three
years, he had put a lot of energy into the litigation, and when
it was over he wanted to meet with church officials.
Several months ago, Chavez met with the bishops. In separate meetings,
he spoke to Bishop William K. Weigand and Auxiliary Bishop Richard
Garcia for the first time. Neither had been in Sacramento when the
alleged abuse happened.
Chavez sat down with them and told him how he felt about the church,
how he lost his faith in God.
"They both apologized and listened," says Chavez. "But
I have no plans to return to the Catholic church."
Garcia says he was moved by his heartfelt talk with Chavez.
"He seemed very honest and open," says Garcia. "He
seemed very anxious to begin a whole new life and to allow God to
work through him."
Worries and hopes
Kris Chavez worries about her husband's soul.
She's an evangelical Christian and attends church regularly. She
says "it is my hope and my prayer" that her husband becomes
a Christian. "I hope that that's the Lord's will for his life."
Although a nonbeliever, Chavez does attend church with his family
when he can. Lately, he's been too busy with school.
This is his second time around at UC Davis. When he was in his
early 20s, he was a student but dropped out because of his drinking.
Returning to school has not been easy. Chavez says sometimes he
feels "totally out of place among those kids who are so smart."
But he works hard. He spends hours reviewing class notes. He's a
regular at the library.
Chavez is about 30 units away from his bachelor's degree in political
science. He dreams of attending law school and helping the underprivileged.
Last week, Chavez learned he received an "A," a "B"
and a "C+," in his "Rousseau and Nietzsche"
He was relieved.
Chavez gave notice at work recently so he can focus full time on
his studies next year. He also wants to spend more time with his
One year after the settlement, Chavez says, he still wakes up in
cold sweats and thinks about the abuse at least a couple of times
a day. Sometimes he thinks about confronting Blanco.
But then it hits him: What's the point?
"He'll never admit it," says Chavez.
Chavez wants to change for himself, but also for his family.
"I want to leave a better legacy for my sons and show them
that you can overcome evil."
About the writer:
* The Bee's Jennifer Garza can be reached at (916) 321-1133 or