Oakland Diocese Reaches Settlement with Sexual Abuse Victim

Posted on: March 2, 2021 Catholic Church Sexual Abuse

Diocese of Oakland SettlementIn December of 2020, the Diocese of Oakland announced it reached a $3.5 million dollar priest sex abuse settlement with a former seminarian who asserted Father Michael Van Dinh raped him in 2017 at St. Michaels Parish in Livermore, CA. The seminarian did not wish to be identified and will be referred to here as ‘John Doe’.

According to a police report, Van Dinh lured Doe to the church rectory for a breakfast meeting under the false pretense that he could help arrange a job for Doe as a receptionist in a friend’s office. During the visit, Doe claims Van Dinh raped him after coercing him into a massage, which led to blindfolding and tying his hands in the front.

After the incident, and while Van Dinh made breakfast, Doe escaped and immediately drove and told another priest what happened. According to the lawsuit, Gloria Espinoza, a representative for the Diocese, was immediately notified by that priest of the sexual abuse claim against Van Dinh. However, according to the Livermore police report, there is a gap of four days between the incident and when the Diocese actually reported it to police.

The Livermore authorities set up a pretext call between Doe and Van Dinh while a detective listened in. During that call, it was clear the Diocese made Van Dinh aware the incident had already been reported to law enforcement.

Investigators then obtained a search warrant for Van Dinh’s living quarters inside the rectory of St. Michaels Catholic Church. What they found wasn’t exactly related to priesthood. A meth pipe, sex toys, thong underwear, and a blindfold were all recovered from Van Dinh’s room.

Following the investigation by police, a criminal case was forwarded to the District Attorney’s office for investigation. However, the office declined to prosecute Van Dinh because it did not feel there was enough evidence to support the criminal standard of proof that the sexual contact was non-consensual.

After the initial allegations in 2017, Dinh was placed on administrative leave. In June of 2018, Bishop Michael Barber accepted his resignation. He remains on paid leave from the Diocese.

History of Predator Priests in the Oakland Diocese

Through therapy, John Doe began to recall repressed memories of more sexual abuse he endured which has led to additional lawsuits. He now remembers abuse he suffered at the hands of Father Luis Lopez and Father Ricardo Chavez (retired).

The allegations against Lopez stem from Doe’s time at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, which is run by the Diocese of Oakland. Lopez is accused of inappropriately touching Doe during a hug.

The allegations against Chavez go back to Doe’s youth while Chavez served in Pittsburgh at St. Peter Martyr Parish. Doe, an altar boy at the time, claims the abuse by Chavez started with fondling above his clothing which eventually led to fondling underneath his clothing.

According to John Doe’s complaint, the Diocese of Oakland knew of previous sexual abuse allegations against Chavez when he was at St. Leander Church in San Leandro, CA. Even with eyewitness reports of the abuse, the Diocese neither investigated nor disciplined Chavez. Instead, they let him transfer to another diocese where he continued to sexually abuse children.

As attorneys handling priest abuse cases, it’s always disturbing to hear the stories like this, where victims’ lives were destroyed due to sexual abuse committed by priests, but it becomes even more troubling in cases where the Catholic Church chose to shield these predator priest in order to protect itself, and in doing so failed to keep other children safe.

The entire article can be viewed here.

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