Thursday, February 23, 2012
In 2005, a 15-year-old boy toting a heavy childhood walked through the doors of Madonna del Sasso church in North Salinas looking for a place to belong. He had lived for more than 10 years with the reality that his father had walked out on him and his mother and brother, and that his mother worked too hard to support the three of them. He spent a lot of his time alone.
The boy had passed Madonna nearly every day on the trip between the Salinas public high school he attended and the one where he went for his junior ROTC classes, and he had seen and believed: There are happy people going in and out of there, living fulfilling lives. And they’re not alone.
In 2010, that boy, by then a 20-year-old man, walked through the doors of the Salinas Police Department looking for someone to believe him. He had tried to tell the story already, he said, to Diocese of Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia and Father Nicholas Milich, a priest who had temporarily relocated to the area to care for his aging parents, but they either chose not to believe him or chose not to take action. Maybe the police would listen.
The story he told, according to court records in the suit he filed a year ago February against the church, the Diocese and Garcia, is this: Not long after he became a regular fixture at Madonna, a welcomed member of the youth group and choir, a talented flautist who was asked to play regularly, church pastor Edward Fitz-Henry tried to force him to perform a sex act in the sacristy restroom.
The police last October forwarded the case to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Chief Deputy Assistant D.A. Terry Spitz told Weekly reporter Sara Rubin his office had declined to prosecute because of lack of evidence.
Last week, the Diocese announced it had settled that case with the young man, now 22, who filed the suit anonymously as John R.J. Doe, for $500,000. In a statement sent to all priests in the Diocese, the Diocese says it settled without admitting any liability on its part or on the part of Fitz-Henry. In other words, they say he didn’t do it, but they just didn’t want to fight it.
R.J. doesn’t want to talk about his allegations against Fitz-Henry. He says everything he cares to say about it he’s already told to the police. The money he received from the Diocese isn’t enough to buy his way out of his continuing emotional troubles, but it is enough to pay for the ongoing therapy he’s receiving and for his education. He’s currently attending community college in Los Angeles and hopes to study music and business at USC.
In a phone interview with the Weekly, with his attorney listening in, he was willing to talk about the pain of moving through and the hope of moving on.
“I wasn’t able to feel any sense of happiness until I moved away from Salinas. I wanted to be away from everything I felt was causing me pain and everyone at church who had turned their backs on me,” he says. “At first, everyone said, ‘We will support you and help you get through this,’ and then they attacked me and said I was doing it for my own agenda. I was pretty much told never to go back to the church. I was left with the impression I wasn’t wanted or accepted.”
That’s stayed with him since the day he first made those allegations against Fitz-Henry, he says. R.J. isn’t sure he’s entirely lost his faith, but he’s not quite sure what that faith looks like today.
“The hardest part for me was the thought I had lost my faith, and I don’t know where I stand with my beliefs right now,” he says. “I can’t influence people to believe anything, but I would hope that people can look at the facts and lead with their own opinion. All I want is to be able to move on.”
Fitz-Henry, it appears, wants much the same thing for himself. Just after the settlement with R.J. was made, he filed a cross-complaint against Garcia alleging the bishop defamed him, disclosed private information about him, violated California labor code and failed to defend him against R.J.’s allegations.
While in the church’s mind R.J.’s allegations against Fitz-Henry remain unproven, they are asking the Vatican to permanently bar him from ministry, stemming from the revelations that Fitz-Henry committed or tried to commit a sexual transgression with a minor in Carmel in 1992. They should know: They sent him to a treatment center for sexually troubled priests as a result, then sent him back into ministry.
What does R.J. want to say to Fitz-Henry? He believes, in his heart and soul, that his former priest isn’t a bad person.
“I have forgiven him, and that hasn’t been easy, but for my own self and healing, I think it’s fitting,” he says. “I hope he gets the help he needs.”
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.