Saturday, January 22, 2011

Abuse case settled
SA Archdiocese Settles Priest Sex Abuse Case
Victim To Be Paid $946,000
Tim Gerber, KSAT 12 News Reporter

POSTED: Friday, January 21, 2011

EmailPrintSAN ANTONIO -- The Archdiocese of San Antonio announced on Friday it had settled a lawsuit involving allegations of sexual abuse by one of its priests.

The abuse allegations were made by a teen last year but the archdiocese had been investigating misconduct by Rev. John Fiala since 2008.

Watch Tim Gerber's Report
"I deeply regret that any Catholic priest would ever harm a young person," said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller during a news conference.

Fiala began serving in the Archdiocese in 2005, serving as a priest in the Sacred Heart of Mary parish in Rocksprings. He allegedly sexually assaulted the teen on multiple occasions between 2007 and 2008. The victim, now 19, filed the lawsuit last April. It was settled Friday for just over $946,000.

"In order to help to begin to bring closure to this painful chapter and help the victim, his family and our people to start the process of healing, we felt it was important to settle at this time," Garcia-Siller said.

Church officials said they suspended Fiala from his priestly duties when allegations of misconduct were first brought to them by family members in 2008.

Fiala was initially accused of "interference in the custody of a minor," said Rev. Martin Leopold, who worked closely with investigators. Leopold said Fiala helped the teen run away from home.

As the investigation moved forward, allegations of sexual abuse were also made by the victim. The teen told investigators Fiala once raped him at gun point in an Edwards County hotel room.

Leopold said Fiala was permanently removed when the sex abuse allegations were made last year in the lawsuit.

Fiala was under indictment for the alleged crimes when he was arrested for trying to hire a hit man to kill the teen last November.

According to Leopold, the archdiocese followed standard procedures when hiring Fiala. A letter of recommendation was requested from Fiala's religious order, the Society of our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

Leopold said that letter stated Fiala had no prior allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, even though allegations had been made when Fiala was working for the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.

"We're not sure why we were given an incorrect letter of good standing but as it turns out that letter was not completely correct," Leopold said.

Barbara Garcia Boehland, a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said she believes the Archbishop should personally seek out more victims by visiting each parish.

"The settlement is good but it's not enough to cure anything," Garcia Boehland said. "The church has many many resources and that's what these victims need and we also need to figure out what's going to be done about this priest that's running around. He served in our community; is he going to be allowed back?"

According to church officials, Fiala will never be allowed to return to the Archdiocese of San Antonio or any other parish.

Fiala is currently waiting to be tried on the allegations of sexual abuse as well as the murder-for-hire plot.

Garcia-Siller said he remains committed to training priests, deacons, lay parish leaders and volunteers about how to deal with sexual abuse and how to prevent it from happening.

"We cannot change the pain of the past, but we can respond decisively and compassionately when faced with such assaults on human dignity," the archbishop said.

Previous Stories:
•November 23, 2010: Attorney: 'Father Fiala Is A Danger To Society'
•November 23, 2010: Ex-Priest Accused In Murder-For-Hire Plot
•April 9, 2010: Sheriff Completes Priest Sex Probe

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