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Man Sues Dioceses Over Alleged Abuse In Salinas, Arizona

The Rev. John Velez and the Rev. Juan Guillen both allegedly celebrated Mass as visiting priests at Christ the King Church

Jun 6, 2003 | Monterey County Herald A Salinas man has sued the dioceses of Monterey and Tucson over sexual abuse he says he suffered for years at the hands of two Arizona-based priests.

The man, now in his early 20s and listed only as John Doe in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, says he was molested at Christ the King Church in Salinas and at two churches in Arizona from 1989 to 1996.

The men who molested him, the suit claims, were the Rev. John Velez and the Rev. Juan Guillen, both of whom allegedly celebrated Mass as visiting priests at Christ the King.

Guillen, 59, has pleaded guilty in an Arizona court to other charges of molestation and is in jail awaiting sentencing. He is accused of sexual conduct with young boys in 1989, 1994 and 2002.

The whereabouts of Velez, believed to be in his 50s, is unknown. Church officials say he was sent to Mexico in 1991.

In the complaint, the alleged victim accuses diocesan officials of allowing the priests to celebrate Mass even though they knew the men were pedophiles.

The man has sued for unspecified damages.

Officials of the Diocese of Monterey declined to offer much comment, saying it has not yet received the official complaint.

But in an e-mailed statement, diocesan spokesman Kevin Drabinski said the church has no record of Guillen ever being in the diocese, and that he was never allowed to function as a priest here. Velez, he said, was allowed to act as a priest but was sent to Mexico after the diocese learned of the man's accusation.

The diocese helped notify law enforcement authorities of the allegation in 1991, Drabinski said, and again last year. The boy and his family have declined repeated offers by the diocese of aid and counseling, he said.

Guillen befriends family|

The story began in 1988 when the man, then 8 years old, immigrated with his family from Mexico to a town in the Diocese of Tucson.

After several months, Guillen befriended him and his family. The priest told his mother, a devout Catholic, that her son should become an altar boy. Guillen allegedly took the boy under his wing, taught him the ways of the church and took him out for fast food after Mass.

After about six months, the priest began fondling him when they were alone in the church sacristy, the man alleges.

"It was really confusing," he said, "especially because my mom thought he was such a great person, because he was offering help and being friendly to me."

At that age, he said, "you don't really know what's happening to you, and it's embarrassing."

A year later, his family moved to Salinas. Guillen continued to call every couple of weeks to check up on him and his mother, the man said.

He would also visit the boy and his family at their home a few times a year. He was so trusted in the family, the man said, that his mother allowed him to sleep in her son's room, where he molested the child, the suit said.

The family also allowed the priest to take the boy with him on vacations to Mexico, he said. The man said Guillen sometimes brought other boys along but molested him when the two were alone.

The molestation, which the man said started out as fondling, progressed over the years to sexual intercourse, he alleges in the lawsuit.

'Like to be an altar boy?'|

Upon returning from one of the trips in 1991, the man said, he found Velez working as a priest at Christ the King.

Velez, he said, befriended the boy using the same devices that Guillen allegedly used.

Velez, he said, "did exactly the same thing. He'd ask: 'Would you like to be an altar boy? Can I train you in soccer?'"

Velez took the boy with him on errands and assignments, the lawsuit says. He took him along while visiting sick parishioners, and even took him on out-of-town business, such as a religious weekend seminar in Watsonville. The lawsuit says the church offered him and his family no counseling.

Sandman, who is now pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Watsonville, was away from the church and unavailable to comment Thursday.

The family never saw Velez again, the man said. A week or so after the meeting, he said, Velez called to ask for forgiveness.

Society of Mary|

Church spokesman Drabinski said Velez was a member of a religious order called the Society of Mary, also known as the Marist Fathers. When the accusations surfaced in 1991, he said, the diocese immediately expelled Velez and notified his religious order of the reasons.

The society recalled Velez to Mexico, he said, and sent an escort to ensure Velez's return.

Drabinski said diocesan officials helped another institution report the matter to "the responsible governmental agency" in 1991, but could not say what those bodies were. They also reported the alleged incident to the Monterey County district attorney last year, he said.

Guillen kept visiting the family, the alleged victim said. At one point Guillen substituted for a Christ the King priest for a few days, and the abuse continued, he said.

The family returned home to the Tucson Diocese in 1993, and the relationship with Guillen continued. In 1994, he took the boy to Disneyland, where, the suit claims, he molested him.

At that point, the man recalled, the priest was molesting him three to four times a week in a church chapel or in the room where the priest lived at another church.

But as the boy neared graduation from high school, their meetings became more infrequent, the man said. They saw each other every couple of weeks. The boy said he avoided Guillen and showed discomfort when he got close. But because the priest had been helpful for so long, he said, he did not demand that the abuse stop.

"I can't really answer why," he said.

He graduated from high school early and returned with his family to Salinas in 1996. The priest and the boy left on good terms, and Guillen called every couple of months but never visited.

Finally on his own, at that point "you just try to forget about it," the man said.

Drabinski said the church's offer of aid and counseling, though rejected in 1991 and afterward, "remains open to both the plaintiff and his family, regardless of the institution of legal proceedings against the diocese."

The alleged victim has filed suit in Arizona through attorney Lynne Cadigan, and in Orange County through attorney John Manly.

The suit is one of 10 that Manly and another lawyer filed on behalf of molestation victims against the dioceses of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego.

The lawyers told the Los Angeles Times they filed the suits because church officials have stonewalled on requests to produce personnel files on the accused priests. The filing of the lawsuits ends a 5-month-old agreement among various lawyers to try to mediate a massive settlement before any more civil lawsuits were filed, the Times reported.

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