PORTLAND, Ore. (The Tribune) — An $8.5 million lawsuit has been filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, along with St. Luke Catholic Church in Woodburn, in connection with a 2012 sex abuse case involving a popular local priest.
Angel Armando Perez, 48, was a priest at St. Luke in August 2012, when he was charged with first-degree sex abuse (a Measure 11 offense), driving under the influence of intoxicants and two counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor. Under the terms of a plea agreement, Perez pleaded guilty in April 2013 and was assessed the mandatory minimum sentence for the sex abuse charge — six years, three months — which he is currently serving.
His victim was a Salem boy, 12 at the time, who is identified in court documents only as “J.T.” The initial complaint in the lawsuit, filed April 23 by the Barton Law Firm in Newport, describes the plaintiff and his family as “particularly devout, attending church regularly.” It also notes that, as immigrants, the church played a particularly important role in the family members’ lives.
The complaint claims that Perez, in the course of his ministerial duties as a priest, befriended the victim and established himself as a spiritual guide and trustworthy mentor.
“Fr. Perez’s grooming of Plaintiff included befriending Plaintiff, and engaging Plaintiff in social and recreational activities, and further extended to plying the minor Plaintiff with alcohol,” the law firm alleged.
The complaint further alleges it was “common knowledge” among archdiocese personnel that Perez “had a problem with alcohol” that began approximately a year before the August 2012 incident, related to the child sex abuse conviction of a close friend of Perez’s in California.
“Fr. Perez took this news hard and began drinking to excess,” the document reads in part. “In the months prior to sexually abusing Plaintiff, Fr. Perez’s alcohol consumption became worse.”
On the night of Aug. 12, 2012, the plaintiff was staying at Perez’s residence at the St. Luke rectory in anticipation of a camping trip the next day. Around midnight, the boy awoke to find Perez, naked from the waist down, fondling his genitals and taking pictures with a mobile phone.
The victim fled the rectory, and several witnesses reported seeing Perez, then in his underwear, chasing the boy down Woodburn streets.
The Barton firm’s suit alleges that Perez’s abuse was the result of the performance of his duties as assigned by the archdiocese and St. Luke, and further claims the defendants were negligent in the case.
“Defendants created a dangerous condition by allowing Fr. Perez to run a parish by himself in a small community when they knew or should have known that Fr. Perez was hosting boys overnight,” the complaint said. “Defendants knew or should have known that Fr. Perez posed an unreasonable risk of harm to minors through his conduct of hosting boys at his residence overnight.”
The complaint said Perez violated a number of standards of conduct that the archdiocese established following its 2004 bankruptcy filing, which had been precipitated by the more than $51 million it paid in damages to settle numerous claims of sexual misconduct by its priests.
Attorney Brent Barton said there have been other suits filed against the archdiocese since 2004, but he believes this is the first that is related to an incident that occurred after the bankruptcy.
“The abuse suffered by the boy in this case was readily preventable,” Barton wrote in an email last week. “I think everyone can agree that the two priorities moving forward should be protecting other children from future abuse and helping those who have already been victimized through no fault of their own.”
The suit claims the victim has suffered “permanent emotional injury, pain and suffering, physical and emotional trauma and psychological damages.”
“Unlike a broken bone that you can see via X-ray, each victim of sex abuse suffers differently,” Barton said. “At this point, I prefer not to divulge the details of the boy’s personal suffering, but it will be the focus of (the) trial.”
In a prepared statement, archdiocese spokesman Bud Bunce said, “Child abuse is a violation of all the church teaches.” He also alleged that the victim and his family “chose to file this lawsuit without attempting to resolve the claim out of court.”
“Our church repeatedly reached out to the boy’s family to apologize, express concern and offer pastoral and other assistance,” Bunce said. “Their attorney refused all offers. We continue to keep the victim and his family in our prayers.”
Asked about this statement, Barton repudiated the claims.
“It is unbelievable that the archdiocese blames the victim for this lawsuit, which the family attempted to avoid,” he said. “It would be at least as fair for the victim and his family to criticize the Archdiocese for forcing them to file a lawsuit after everything that happened to them, as opposed to the other way around.”