Butte County man alleges priest abuse in lawsuit

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- This past weekend, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new bill into law that allows victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to file civil suits.

Now, a 48-year-old Butte County man is suing the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, claiming it allowed his alleged abuser to continue to work as a priest in Mexico just months after he reported that priest had abused him.

At the time, Juan Ricardo Torres was only 15 years old. His lawsuit is likely one of the first of many this new law has opened the door for.

“Since this happened I’ve always like tried to forget about it but you can’t,” Torres said. “The more you try to forget about it the harder it is.”

Assembly Bill 218 becoming law is allowing child sexual abuse victims like Torres to finally share their stories.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, Torres says he was abused by his priest, Jose Antonio Pinal.

“I didn’t want anybody to know. It was embarrassing enough as it was,” Torres said.

Torres was an altar boy at the Catholic church in Gridley at the time.

“These are individuals that are supposed to be the closest thing to Jesus Christ or God and they’re not,” he said.

In January 1989, Torres reported the abuse to the church. The Diocese promised to kick Pinal out of the church.

“They promised him that Pinal would no longer have access to children,” attorney Dr. Joseph George said.

George says that’s not what happened. He recently uncovered a letter that shows instead Pinal was moved to Mexico.

“A deal was made brokered, with Pinal and the Bishop of Cuernavaca that allowed Pinal to be ordained in Cuernavaca,” he said.

“I’m really angry,” Torres said. “It’s disappointing.”

George and Torres have filed a civil lawsuit against the Diocese of Sacramento, as the new law now allows all victims three years to file.

Bishop Jaime Soto with the Diocese released a statement on the lawsuit:

I am ashamed of the letters regarding the transfer of a recognized perpetrator, Fr. Jose Antonio Penal (Pinal), with letters from the diocesan attorney, Bishop Alphonse Gallegos and Bishop Francis Quinn. This was a grave failure of judgment and a betrayal of trust. The safety of children is our highest priority. In 1989 those in leadership failed to do so. I must own and atone for this.

I and my brother priests have worked to make a full accounting. This reckoning is still not over. Our resolve to be transparent and accountable begins with bringing the past to light. My commitment is to help the victims of past abuse and betrayal as well as ensure all measures are taken to provide a safe sanctuary for all God’s children.

George admits this likely won’t be the last case to resurface.

“Now I’m getting calls from 72-year-old white guys who are telling me they’ve been married for 50 years and never told their wife they were abused their freshman year in high school,” George said.

But Torres says for so many victims, the money won’t fix the past.

“I have three children and my ex-wife says I was a good father,” he said. “But I didn’t feel like I was because I wasn’t really present for them like I felt I should have been.”

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