Sunday, November 14, 2010

Case settled
Families settle sex abuse lawsuit with Catholic Diocese
Comments 5
November 13, 2010 7:44 AM
By MICHAEL BARAJAS/Valley Morning Star

The families who sued over 2005 sexual abuse allegations at Harlingen’s St. Anthony Catholic School have settled with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville for an undisclosed amount, the families’ attorney said Friday.

The firm representing the families would not give specifics on the settlement. Steven Schulte, the families’ attorney, stated only that the lawsuit against the diocese was settled for a “substantial confidential amount.”

A representative of the diocese could not be reached Friday to comment.

According to court records, the case, initially filed in 2006, was set to go to trial Monday. The latest petition in the case, filed last month, alleges that school and diocese officials knew and failed to act on reports of five boys sexually abused by Manuel Ortiz Muñoz, a former janitor at the school.

The lawsuit alleges that Muñoz molested the boys on multiple occasions on school grounds during school hours, and that those assaults eventually pushed one of the students to suicide.

Authorities said Jorge Cavazos, a 12-year-old student at the school, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in La Feria on Aug. 17, 2005, four days before he was scheduled to testify against Muñoz in a criminal trial.

“I think everyone is saddened by the fact that this janitor was put in a position of trust and that this was allowed to go on and on for five years,” Schulte said. “I think, even after all this time, everyone is still in disbelief over that fact.”

A filing by the District Attorney’s Office contained in the lawsuit cites three outstanding indictments of indecency with a child against Muñoz. According to that filing, Muñoz, after being released on $65,000 bond, skipped a court hearing and fled in March 2006.

The DA’s office did not respond to requests Friday seeking comment on the criminal case against Muñoz.

In the lawsuit, the families also alleged that the school and diocese “negligently selected, screened, hired, and/or continued the employment of Muñoz in a janitorial position, allowing him access to and direct contact with minor children, when they knew or should have known of his dangerous sexual propensities.”

The lawsuit further alleges that the school failed to report, investigate or take any action after learning of reports during the 1999-2000 school year of questionable and inappropriate behavior involving Muñoz alone in the school’s restrooms with the children.

According to court records, multiple charges of indecency with a child against Muñoz are still pending.

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