Fresno Diocese Not Liable for Molestation by Priest

April 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A jury deliberated less than two days in a lawsuit accusing the Fresno Catholic Diocese of covering up sex abuse.The suit was filed by George and Howard Santillan who claimed church leaders knew a Wasco priest molested them thirty years ago.

Jurors agreed the Santillan brothers were sexually abused more than 30 years ago by Monsignor Anthony Herdegen. But jurors disagreed that the bishop of Fresno knew about the abuse. The brothers asked for nearly 20 million dollars in damages. Friday ... They go home with no money.

George and Howard Santillan left the court room with their heads held high. The Santillans feel gratified that Monsignor Anthony Herdegen's long time abuse ... Finally became public.

Howard Santillan said, "We put it out here for everybody to see it. If you have children in any church ? beware, protect your children."

More than 30 years ago ... Howard and George were altar boys at Saint John's Parish in Wasco. Monsignor Herdegen admitted he molested the two boys over several years. Jurors had to answer a series of questions. Question two was the key. It asked: "Did the Roman Catholic Bishop of Fresno know or have reason to know that Monsignor Herdegen committed an act of unlawful sexual conduct?" Nine out of twelve jurors said yes.

George Santillan said, "Now the public knows the public is aware of what has been going on for many years and it's been ignored."

Bishop John Steinbock always maintained ... The diocese did everything it could to protect children.

While gratified over the jury's action, Bishop Steinbock expressed regret that Monsignor Herdegen had abused the Santillans, even though the diocese learned that they were abused years after it occurred.

Bishop Steinbock emphasized that if even one child is sexually abused, that is one child too many.

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