Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lawsuit claims abuse by priest

Lawsuit claims abuse by priest
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Retired clergyman denies allegations
June 26, 2010 11:19 PM
Laura Tillman, Jazmine Ulloa and Lindsay Machak
Valley Freedom Newspapers
A man in his early 40s filed a lawsuit Friday against a priest formerly of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, alleging that the priest physically and sexually abused him as a minor over the course of several years.

The plaintiff, whose name is withheld in the case, states in court documents that between 1978 and 1981 Armando Escobedo, then a priest assigned to Our Lady of St. John of Fields in Mission, “repeatedly gave (him) alcohol and sexually abused and molested him on church property.” The plaintiff was an altar server at the church during that time and was about 11 years old when the abuse began, according to the lawsuit.

In an interview Saturday at his Mission home, Escobedo said he had no idea a lawsuit had been filed against him but asserted that the allegations were completely false.

“Usually when people make things like this up, they want money,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed in state district court in Hidalgo County. The man is seeking more than $50,000 in monetary relief, according to the documents.

Escobedo said he has never provided minors with any kind of alcohol.

“I’m not even a drinker,” he said. “If I go out to dinner, I may have one drink, but then I’m done and that’s it. I’ve been like that my whole life.”

The priest has since retired and is living in Mission with his sister. He takes pride in his perfectly manicured lawn and spends his days playing golf and working around the house.

“You try to enjoy the last few years of your life when you retire,” he said. “But something like this makes it difficult and not enjoyable.”

Brenda Nettles Riojas, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Brownsville, said the diocese had just received a copy of the lawsuit on Saturday and would not comment on it until church officials had a chance to review it.

She did comment generally, however.

“We do want to make sure that we always provide a safe and healthy environment for children and young adults and that we remain committed to doing whatever we can to assist victims,” she said. “We encourage victims to come forward.”

She said parishioners can find more information on how to report abuse on the diocese’s website at

A member of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) traveled from Laredo on Saturday to offer her support to the plaintiff, though she is not connected to the case. Diana Gonzalez, 57, told reporters that she is a victim of abuse by a priest and hopes other victims will come forward to denounce their abusers.

“A church shouldn’t be a safe haven for predators,” she said. “We must speak the truth, and we must clean up the church.”

Barbara Garcia Boehland with SNAP in San Antonio helped arrange Gonzalez’s trip to Brownsville. Boehland said SNAP hopes to extend its network to the Rio Grande Valley.

“I would like to tell victims not to be afraid to talk about it (abuse),” she said.

The sex abuse scandal has seriously affected the Catholic Church, especially in the United States and Europe, with reports of abuse in seminaries, schools and other church-run institutions. Reports that priests have abused children — or bishops have covered up the crimes — have outraged the faithful.

Much of the momentum to rid the church of pedophile priests and bring them and those covering up for them to justice has come from Catholics in the U.S. and Ireland.

Pope Benedict XVI recently asked church members to “remember all priests in our prayers” and pray that God “keep them in his grace as faithful friends and ministers.”

He also urged Catholics to support their pastors with “wise advice.”

For SNAP members, prayers go to victims. Gonzalez said she would like to tell the plaintiff in this most recent lawsuit: “I’m very sorry. I’m glad he survived and gathered the strength to come forward and claim a better life.”

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