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Suits filed over sexually abusive San Bernardino priest

Joelle Casteix (L) and attorney John Manly at news conference announcing lawsuits against Fr. Alex Castillo and the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino.
Joelle Casteix (L) and attorney John Manly at news conference announcing lawsuits against Fr. Alex Castillo and the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino.

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The accusers of a Roman Catholic priest convicted of sexually abusing a 12-year old boy are suing him. Attorneys for the victim and his older brother — both teenagers now — are also suing the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Attorneys say church leaders knew Father Alex Castillo was a serial child molester even before he worked at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ontario. That’s where attorney John Manley and members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, announced the lawsuits.

"It appears to us and we think that we’ll be able to prove that the Diocese was well aware that Father Castillo has serious problems with acting out sexually," Manley said.

Earlier this year, a jury convicted Castillo of multiple counts of lewd acts with a child under the age 14. In a plea agreement, the 58-year-old priest admitted to repeatedly molesting one of the plaintiffs. Authorities believe Castillo also molested the victim’s older brother. He avoided prosecution in that case because the 1-year statute of limitations had expired. Manley says his clients seek unspecified damages.

“We are familiar with cases from the 70s, 80s and even the 90s. These are boys who are still teenagers today, which tells us that despite all their promises dioceses’ still have not gotten rid of the bad apples that continue to prey on young children. And if they knew he was dangerous why did they put him here? My clients should never have met Father Castillo," he said.

San Bernardino Diocese spokesman John Andrews, reading from a written statement, said the Catholic hierarchy stripped Castillo of his ministerial duties shortly after the latest allegations surfaced at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Given our well documented commitment to protect children from abuse in both policy and action its disappointing to be named in these lawsuits," Andrews said. “We continue to offer our prayers to all victims of sexual abuse that they will receive God’s healing presence and his grace in their lives, and we continue to commit ourselves to preventing this sin of abuse in our families, communities and society as a whole.”

This month, a judge sentenced Castillo to a year in prison; he must also register as a sex offender. Under his plea deal with prosecutors, he avoided a much longer sentence. Despite his conviction, Castillo still appears — wearing his clerical collar — on the diocese’s online directory of clergy. That suggests to some observers that he’s still a priest in good standing.

“You can call it a passive-aggressive way to make it perfectly clear that they still support and defend him," said Joelle Casteix, SNAP’s western region director, who added that the church should make clear that Castillo is a lay person and no longer a priest. “I haven’t heard anything about him being laicized. So, until the Diocese of San Bernardino shows us any differently, they are in implicit support of him," Casteix said.

Diocese spokesman Andrews says that while still Castillo is technically still a priest, proceedings are underway at the Vatican to formally expel him from the priesthood.