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Ruling by judge clears Yakima diocese in abuse case

Bishop Joseph Tyson
Bishop Joseph Tyson
Bishop Joseph Tyson facebook

On Thursday, June 12, U.s. District Judge Edward Shea ruled that the Diocese of Yakima and Resurrection Parish were not liable for the sexual abuse which occurred to a 17-year-old boy at the Zillah parish in 1999. According to the Yakima Herald Republic, Judge Shea wrote in his 34-page ruling that there was no evidence to prove that the church knew or should have known that Deacon Aaron Ramirez posed a risk of misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Edward Shea rejected arguments by the victim, that the diocese failed to properly screen the deacon when it accepted him as a priesthood candidate or that it failed to supervise him as he worked in the diocese. Judge Edward Shea ruled that while it was clear that the plaintiff, "John Doe" was abused by former Deacon Aaron Ramirez, attorneys for the plaintiff failed to prove the Diocese or Parish bore responsibility. The trial lasted seven days, taking place in Yakima in March. The closing arguments were heard on April 20.

Bishop Joseph Tyson, the current Bishop of Yakima, responded to the ruling with the following statement. "As we have said many times, we're very sorry for the abuse Mr. Doe suffered," Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson stated. "Our prayers are with him. At the same time, we're pleased that the court recognized the diocese's strong legal position" The bishop added. "It is unfortunate we weren't able to settle this matter outside of trial."

Ramirez, who had been ordained a deacon as part of preparing to become a priest, was at the parish unknown to any church authorities when the abuse occurred in a trailer on the parish grounds. “On July 29, 1999, neither the Diocese nor Resurrection had any knowledge of any prior misbehavior, or any prior inappropriate sexual behavior by Ramirez, nor any reason to know that he posed a risk of such behavior,” the judge stated in his ruling.

The Diocese accepted Ramirez as a candidate for priesthood in 1998, after he successfully completed seminary studies in Mexico. While his personnel file could not be located, the judge ruled that “the Diocese did not willfully, intentionally, or in bad faith destroy or hide the Ramirez file which at some time prior to July 29, 1999, existed.” The diocese was able to reconstruct his seminary academic record, which showed he successfully completed the program, despite leaving one religious order to join another about halfway through the program.

Bishop Emeritus Carlos A. Sevilla, S.J., who accepted Ramirez to the diocese, corresponded with him regularly after he fled to Mexico rather than be questioned about the abuse by authorities. Bishop Sevilla then engaged in a successful attempt to convince him to be laicized – permanently removed as a cleric in the church – in 2001. While acknowledging the criticism Sevilla received for some of his supportive correspondence, the “Court finds that Bishop Sevilla was both managing the removal of Ramirez as a Deacon while coaxing him to realize he would not be accepted as a Catholic priest in Mexico,” the judge stated. “And, while perhaps difficult for a lay person to understand, the Bishop was indeed ministering to a sinner within his priestly duties.”

The victim who filed the lawsuit in 2011 while living in Oregon, was offered counseling by the Yakima Diocese following the abuse but he declined the church’s assistance. Following his graduation from Zillah High School in 2000 he served in the U.S. Marine Corps before settling in Oregon.

For the past 13 years, victims of sexual abuse as minors have regularly been invited to make complaints to the Diocese, with the promise that the abuse will be reported to the authorities, and professionally investigated, with care and compassion, under the supervision of the Diocesan Lay Advisory Board. The hotline number is 1-888-276-4490.

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