The Archdiocese of San Antonio settled a lawsuit Thursday over claims that a priest sexually assaulted a woman and that the church and Archbishop Patrick Flores then ignored her pleas for help.
The archdiocese will pay $300,000 to settle Julia Villegas Phelps’ lawsuit, Phelps’ attorney J. Douglas Sutter said.
Sutter said they would continue with a canon law claim with the highest court in the Vatican. That claim, initiated two years ago, seeks to remove the priest from the clerical state and to remove the archbishop for violating his own rules, Sutter said.
Thursday’s settlement was reached after morning testimony in which Flores testified that he could not be held accountable for “every sexual act” committed by a priest in the archdiocese.
“Our priests are not babies,” Flores said while on the stand, the San Antonio Express-News reported in its online edition. “I’m not going to keep an eye on them 24 hours a day.”
Phelps was seeking up to $18 million in the suit. She said Father Michael Kenny sexually assaulted her in front of her children and while she was medicated at her home in 1989.
Flores denied knowing until two years ago that Kenny had admitted to engaging in a four-year affair with Phelps.
“You are accountable with respect to your pastors involved in sexual abuse matters, are you not?” Sutter asked Flores in court.
“No, I am not,” Flores replied. “I don’t assume that responsibility. I cannot be responsible for every sexual act any priest has.”
Deacon Pat Rodgers, an archdiocese spokeswoman, said: “The timing of (the settlement) really wasn’t connected to anybody’s testimony,” Rodgers said. The archdiocese and Phelps’ attorney had been talking for some time about reaching a settlement.
Rodgers said they “hope and pray” the settlement will help Phelps and her family get on with their lives.
Sutter said they were pleased with the settlement but wouldn’t give up the canon law claim.
Flores’ testimony came on the second day of trial in Phelps’ suit, which claimed that the church did not follow its procedures and investigate her complaint against Kenny.
Archdiocese attorney Jim Drought argued that Kenny was suspended two years ago when sexual improprieties became known.