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California Briefing / Fresno

Diocese not liable for sexual abuse, jury finds

April 04, 2009|Victoria Kim

The Fresno diocese cannot be held liable for decades-old sexual abuse of two boys by a Wasco priest, a jury found Friday.

The diocese never disputed that brothers George and Howard Santillan, now 59 and 54, were sexually abused in the Central Valley town. At issue in the three-week trial was whether the diocese knew about the abuse at the time and failed to protect them.

Jurors voted 9 to 3 that there was not enough evidence to show the diocese had knowledge of the abuse, said Rosemary McGuire, an attorney for the diocese.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who served in high-ranking positions in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno during part of the time that the alleged molestation took place, gave rare open-court testimony last month in the brothers' trial. He testified that the abuse was never brought to his attention and that a different diocese official was assigned to handling personnel matters.

"The jury obviously found his testimony and the testimony of other witnesses for the Fresno Diocese to be credible," said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for Mahony.

Plaintiffs' attorneys did not immediately return requests for comment.

The case was first thrown out by a trial court judge, but Mahony's deposition testimony that he would have expected the priest's housekeeper to have told someone in the church if she suspected abuse revived the case on appeal.

-- Victoria Kim

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