Yakima, Wash., Diocese Target of Abuse Lawsuit

By SHANNON DININNY | July 15, 2011

An Oregon man has filed suit in federal court against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yakima, Wash., alleging he was abused as a teen by a former Catholic deacon who later became an Episcopal priest in Mexico.

The lawsuit marks the fourth pending case involving clergy abuse against the Yakima diocese, which has paid out more than $1 million to resolve claims involving at least seven priests.

The lawsuit contends that Deacon Aaron Ramirez, acting as a spiritual adviser, counselor and mentor to the plaintiff, invited the then 17-year-old to his residence for a guitar lesson, plied him with alcohol and sexually abused him on July 29, 1999.

The alleged abuse occurred at Resurrection Parish in Zillah, Wash. The plaintiff now resides in Washington County, Ore.

Ramirez fled to Mexico when police sought to question him about the case. He later was ordained an Episcopal priest there, but the church dismissed him after being notified about the U.S. allegations. His current whereabouts are not known.

According to the lawsuit, Ramirez admitted the abuse to former Yakima Bishop Carlos Sevilla. Sevilla recently retired as bishop after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

The diocese failed to contact authorities after hearing from Ramirez and failed to notify the Mexico Conference of Bishops about the abuse after learning that Ramirez intended to minister there, allowing Ramirez to continue to minister and likely have contact with other children, the lawsuit contends.

Father Robert Siler, diocese spokesman, said the church is very sorry for the abuse the young man suffered. Sevilla reached out to the man then and offered to pay for counseling, he said.

“We recently renewed our offer of counseling, but obviously he has a right to file a lawsuit if he wishes, and we will cooperate as this case proceeds,” he said.

Siler said the church has not heard from or about Ramirez in four or five years.

The lawsuit, filed July 8 in U.S. District Court in Yakima, seeks damages in excess of $75,000.

In addition to the more than $1 million paid out to resolve cases, the diocese has spent at least $1.5 million in legal fees in response to abuse claims. Most costs have been paid by insurance.

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