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Sex abuse suit is filed in Texas diocese supervised by L.A.'s incoming archbishop

Teen's lawsuit says he was repeatedly assaulted and that Jose Gomez should have known that the priest was an abuser.

April 09, 2010|By Carol J. Williams

A teenage boy from west Texas filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that a priest in the diocese under incoming Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez sexually assaulted him repeatedly and that Gomez should have known that the priest was an abuser.

The complaint filed in the small town of Rocksprings is the first allegation of clergy abuse of a minor to have occurred during Gomez's tenure and made known to the San Antonio archdiocese leader, just named by the Vatican to succeed Cardinal Roger Mahony in the Los Angeles archdiocese.

The suit alleges that Father John M. Fiala assaulted the teen in 2007 and 2008, including forcing him to perform sex acts at gunpoint.

Edwards County sheriff's officials brought the reported abuse to the attention of the church hierarchy in 2008, the lawsuit said.

A spokesman for the San Antonio archdiocese, Dea- con Pat Rodgers, said in a statement that the Sheriff's Department had advised church leadership of an investigation into Fiala but on grounds of "interference in the custody of a minor," not sexual abuse.

A source with knowledge of the case said Fiala came to law enforcement attention when the boy's grandmother, who had legal custody, reported that the priest had taken the boy on overnight trips without permission.

Gomez suspended Fiala from ministerial functions in the fall of 2008, when the archdiocese agreed to cooperate with the investigation, Rodgers said. Fiala was also removed from appointments as pastoral administrator for the three missions and parishes he served.

The archbishop, who is expected to assume his Los Angeles duties in May ahead of his takeover from Mahony next year, instructed Father Martin Leopold to inform parish communities of the "investigation into Father Fiala's activities," Rodgers' statement said. Leopold has been identified by Bexar County law enforcement authorities as the archdiocese's "point man" on clergy sexual abuse issues.

Gomez has been criticized by victims' advocates for doing what they consider too little to address three other instances of alleged sexual misconduct by priests in the archdiocese. But all occurred decades ago, long before Gomez's tenure and beyond the statute of limitations for bringing civil charges against the alleged perpetrators.

The teenager's San Antonio attorney, Tom Rhodes, told the Associated Press that the boy's family was unaware of the alleged sexual abuse until the boy attempted suicide.

carol.williams@latimes.com

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