The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Child sex case v. Omaha priest settles for $946,000; SNAP responds
Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)
A civil child sex abuse and cover up lawsuit has been resolved involving a priest, Fr. John M. Fiala, who was ordained and who worked in Omaha. Last April, Omaha Catholic officials disclosed that they knew eight years earlier that the cleric had made sexual advances toward a child in the 1080s.
We applaud this brave victim for having the courage to step forward and the wisdom to take legal action and the patience to endure a long struggle to expose a predator, warn unsuspecting families, safeguard vulnerable children, and achieve some justice.
We hope that Omaha’s archbishop will go beyond this minimal step and aggressively seek out others who know of or suspect his crimes and prod them to contact law enforcement.
We urge the archbishop to personally visit each site where Fiala worked and beg victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to call police. Settling lawsuits with the already-wounded is fine. Helping to protect the still-vulnerable is better. Catholic officials have many resources that could be used to help reverse decades of secrecy about clergy sex crimes and better enable law enforcement to successfully prosecute Fiala and keep him away from kids for a long time. Fiala faces the pending criminal child sex abuse indictments in Texas.
Fiala is accused of hiring a hit man to kill one of his victims. That shouldn’t be overlooked or ignored. He is a danger to adults and kids.
Let’s hope that every person who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes – by Fiala or other church employees - will find the courage and strength to speak up, call police, expose wrongdoing, protect kids and start healing.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, firstname.lastname@example.org), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com, Barbara Garcia Boehland 210 621 2177, Cell 210 725 8329, email@example.com
Archdiocese settles suit for $946,000
By Abe Levy
Published: 11:41 p.m., Friday, January 21, 2011
Local Catholic officials announced Friday that they have settled a lawsuit for $946,000 against a now-fired priest accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy, at times by gunpoint, in hotel rooms and during catechism classes.
Father John M. Fiala, 52, was sued by the youth last spring and since has been arrested twice on criminal charges.
Last year, he was indicted on six counts of sexually assaulting the teen in Edwards and Howard counties. And last November, Dallas-area police arrested him on a charge of attempting to hire a hit man to kill the youth, now 19.Fiala remains jailed in Dallas County.
The Archdiocese of San Antonio was named in the lawsuit along with former Archbishop José Gomez.
The lawsuit also names Fiala's religious order, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity; the Diocese of Corpus Christi; and the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., where Fiala began as a priest in 1984.
Those parties still face a trial in the lawsuit, set for Aug. 15 in Bexar County.
The San Antonio archdiocese's part in the matter was inherited by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, who replaced Gomez in November.
He said at a news conference Friday that he regrets the hurt caused by the scandal.
“We have been trying for years to be transparent and clear and face the issues,” he said, adding that the settlement in part will go to counseling for the young man and his family. “The complete healing is beyond our reach without the grace of God and his mercy.”
In announcing the settlement, archdiocesan officials blamed Fiala's religious order. Before his hire by the San Antonio archdiocese in 2005, the order sent the archdiocese a letter of recommendation saying Fiala was free of any sex abuse claims, said Father Martin Leopold, head administrator for the archdiocese.
But news reports after the lawsuit revealed Fiala faced a sexual misconduct claim while a priest in the Omaha archdiocese. And subsequent arrests, while not factoring into the lawsuit, added troubling new dynamics for the archdiocese to weigh.
“We're not sure why we were given an incorrect letter of good standing” from the religious order, Leopold said. The lawsuit “had serious allegations and a jury could reward serious damages, and we thought it was prudent to settle.”
E-mails and calls to Father Gerard Sheehan, head of the religious order's U.S. division in Robstown, and Dallas attorney Rex Gunter, listed as Fiala's appointed attorney in a Dallas County arrest record, were not returned Friday.
Gomez removed Fiala permanently from priestly ministry in the fall of 2008 and informed the three parishes where Fiala was administrator, including Sacred Heart of Mary in the Edwards County town of Rocksprings — about 110 miles west of San Antonio — where the teen was a member.
His religious order also removed him from priestly ministry at that time.
Fiala also worked at nearby St. Raymond Mission in Leakey and St. Mary Magdalen Mission in Camp Wood. The alleged abuse ran from January to August 2008 while he was at the Rocksprings parish.
His strategy was to lure the teen into a secluded friendship with such perks as an MP3 player, cash, a car, a laptop and alcohol, the suit alleges. Fiala gave the teen a ride to an out-of-town hotel, where Fiala is accused of raping him at gunpoint.
Fiala was arrested last November after he tried to broker a deal for an undercover officer to kill his accuser, according to the Department of Public Safety, which teamed up with the Texas Rangers on the sting.
Last May, Gomez moved to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where he'll soon become its next archbishop. The archdiocese has said his five-year tenure contained no new claims of sex abuse by priests.
The archdiocese estimates it now has paid out $6.63 million to victims of sexual abuse by its priests in the past few decades.
The San Antonio archdiocese maintained Friday that the lawsuit was the first time it had received a sexual abuse claim about Fiala. The archdiocese has said the teen's family notified it in 2008 only of concerns that Fiala was interfering with custodial rights.
But the youth's attorney, Tahira Khan Merritt of Dallas, said the teen's mother raised concerns about sex abuse to the archdiocese multiple times.
Merritt said the youth reached the settlement in mid-December with the archdiocese, adding that its leaders sought to minimize their role in the matter.
“They're always trying to say the victims are just after money,” she said. “I don't think any amount of money is going to compensate this victim, who suffered at gunpoint and faces a lifelong journey to recovery.
“I think the archdiocese by paying the settlement was unwilling to expose publicly their role in allowing this known sexual predator to work for them.”
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests