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Sunday May 27, 2018
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A federal judge Thursday ruled that the Diocese of Yakima and Resurrection Parish were not liable for the sexual abuse of a 17-year-old boy at the Zillah parish in 1999.

Judge Edward Shea ruled that while it was clear the plaintiff, "John Doe," was abused by former Deacon Aaron Ramirez, attorneys for the plaintiff failed to prove the Diocese or Parish bore responsibility.  Shea presided over a seven-day bench trial in federal court in Yakima in March, and heard closing arguments in the case April 20. 

"As we have said many times, we're very sorry for the abuse Mr. Doe suffered," said Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson. "Our prayers are with him."

"At the same time, we're pleased that the court recognized the diocese's strong legal position," the bishop said. "It is unfortunate we weren't able to settle this matter outside of trial."

Key findings of the judge's ruling included:

– Ramirez, who had been ordained a deacon as part of preparing to become a priest, was at the parish unbeknownst 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. 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.”

Doe, who brought the lawsuit in 2011 while living in Oregon, was offered counseling by the Diocese following the abuse but declined the church’s assistance.  He graduated from Zillah High School in 2000, and settled in Oregon after a brief time in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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.