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Civil lawsuit filed against Catholic Diocese of Tucson and El Paso

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A Civil lawsuit has been filed in Pima County Superior Court against the Catholic Diocese of Tucson and the Diocese of El Paso.

At the center of the lawsuit is a former teacher at Salpointe Catholic High School, Father Richard Zamorano.

Court documents state Father Zamorano was incardinated in El Paso, but later moved to Pima County.

The lawsuit claims Father Zamorano was under the supervision of the Diocese of Tucson and El Paso at the time the wrongful acts he was accused of, occurred.

The lawsuit states the victim in this case is a"vulnerable adult"with mental, cognitive, and physical disabilities.  He was raised in the Roman Catholic Faith and was raised to believe that priests were next to holy.  He placed a great amount of trust in Father Zamorano because he was a priest.

The civil lawsuit states Father Zamorano sexually abused and/or assaulted the victim when he was a member of the Diocese of Tucson.  The victim and his family were parishioners in the Diocese. The victim says he met Zamorano through the diocese and began interacting with him during church events.

According to court documents on June 2,2012 Zamorano allegedly picked the plaintiff up at his home, purchased alcohol for them both, and sexually abused and/or assaulted the victim in a hotel room. Court documents state the victim reported this abuse to the diocese and the Pima County Sheriff.

Pima County officials said they investigated the case, and it was presented to prosecutors, but they declined to file charges, and the case was closed.

No criminal charges were ever filed against Father Richard Zamorano.

The civil lawsuit which was just filed on May 30th claims the Diocese of Tucson and El Paso did not notify parishioners,other individuals, and vulnerable adults that Father Zamorano had multiple leave of absences during his career, nor did they warn parishioners or vulnerable adults about his "proclivity to sexually abuse and risk of harm to parishioners"like the victim.

The suit also states the diocese did not take any action to protect parishioners from Father Zamorano.  Court documents state the Diocese of Tucson and El Paso "had a pattern and practice of ratifying, concealing, and failing to report or investigating the criminal activities of the priests employed by them or associated with them, as the Defendants had a policy of protecting the priests and avoiding at all costs any embarrassment to the Church.

The counts listed in the civil suit include negligence, malpractice, endangerment, vulnerable adult abuse, assault and battery, and sexual assault/molestation.

The lawsuit states that "as direct and proximate cause of Defendant's abuse of Plaintiff, Plaintiff suffered and will continue to suffer in the future of great pain of mind and body, shock,emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self esteem, disgrace, humiliation,anger, rage, frustration, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, loss of love and affection, and past and future medical expenses for psychological treatment, therapy, and counseling."

The Diocese of Tucson released this statement to Tucson News Now on Monday:

"The Diocese of Tucson has been made aware of a lawsuit recently filed by Jose Garcia, in which he alleges abuse by Father Richard Zamorano, a priest of the Diocese of El Paso who worked in the Diocese of Tucson.

The lawsuit, names Zamorano,the Diocese of Tucson and the Diocese of El Paso as defendants. It alleges wrongdoing by Father Zamorano upon Garcia, a man described by the lawsuit as a vulnerable adult at the time of the alleged 2012 incident. The lawsuit accuses both dioceses of failing to protect Garcia or others from Zamorano.

The Diocese of Tucson sees the lawsuit's allegations against the diocese as seriously flawed and without substance.

The lawsuit alleges that FatherZamorano sexually abused Garcia in June 2012. Garcia reported that incident to the Diocese of Tucson, which immediately reported Garcia's allegations to civil authorities. On June 24, 2012, Zamorano was suspended from all priestly ministries from both dioceses pending the outcome of the civil authorities' investigation. After completion of the investigation, the authorities closed the case with no further action.

At no time since the allegations were made have Father Zamorano's faculties for priestly ministry been reinstated by either diocese.

Father Zamorano was ordained to the priesthood in May 1993 for the Diocese of El Paso. At some point in time,Father Zamorano legally adopted two boys in direct violation of instruction from then Bishop Armando X. Ochoa, and was put on a one year personal leave in July 2002. Zamorano voluntarily agreed not to exercise priestly ministry during the leave.

Father Zamorano then relocated to the Diocese of Tucson where his mother lives, and found employment as a teacher at Salpointe Catholic High School.

In 2003, after receiving permission from Bishop Ochoa, Bishop Kicanas accepted Zamorano for service in Tucson.

It was only in 2012 that the Diocese of Tucson became aware of Garcia's allegations, and it followed diocesan safety measures immediately.

At no time prior to that event was either diocese aware of any other alleged misconduct by Zamorano. "

 

Tucson News Now reached to SalpointeCatholic High School for a comment. Father Zamorano worked at Salpointe as a theology teacher from2002-2012.  A spokeswoman stressed the victim had no affiliations to Salpointe. School officials said:

"Rev. Richard L.Zamorano, M.Div., J.C.L., was employed at Salpointe Catholic High School from 2002-2012. During his tenure at Salpointe, Fr. Zamorano served as a faculty member in the theology department and a priest with professionalism and competence. He was an inspirational leader, providing spiritual guidance and support for students, faculty and alumni. When Salpointe was made aware of claims of misconduct, even though unrelated to Salpointe, Fr. Zamorano was removed from his service at Salpointe pending the investigation.  Due to the current legal matter, Salpointe will not comment further."

Tucson News Now has learned that since the allegations, Zamorano was hired as a substitute teacher in the Sunnyside School District. The principal at Sierra Middle School then hired Zamorano as a full time teacher, where he continues to work to this day.

We reached out to friends of Zamorano, they were shocked to hear about these allegations.

Maria Brown said she has known Zamorano since he was in middle school.  Brown said that was not the Zamorano she knew.  She described him as a gentle, caring man who was very spiritual, and kind. She said Zamorano did not even drink at their high school re-unions.

We attempted to contact Zamorano for a comment.  He said because of the lawsuit involved he had been advised by his lawyers not to speak about the allegations at this time.

Sunnyside school officials did not get back to us in regards to our questions regarding Zamorano's employment. 

 

 

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