Catholic diocese settles rape-coverup lawsuit

From Washington Times-Herald and local sources

WASHINGTON — The Evansville Catholic Diocese has reached a confidential settlement in a rape-coverup lawsuit that involved several people with Dubois County affiliations, including a mentally disabled woman.

The agreement filed earlier this month in Daviess Circuit Court was signed by the victim’s mother and the diocese and ends claims against the diocese, the Catholic community of Washington and three diocesan employees.

The civil lawsuit filed in November 2009 claimed people working for the diocese tried to cover up a November 2007 rape of a 23-year-old mentally handicapped woman that occurred during an abstinence youth retreat at the former St. Mary’s School in Washington.

Those named along with the diocese as parties in the suit included Sister Karen Durliat, director of the Guadalupe Center in Huntingburg; Kande Batz, an employee of the center; and Jorge Gomez, a seminarian who was based at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. They were staging the retreat that included both young men and young women.

The victim formerly resided in Jasper. The man who assaulted her Nov. 4, 2007, Fredy Mendez-Morales, 27, formerly of Washington, was a male participant in the retreat, according to the complaint. He pleaded guilty to a Class B felony criminal charge of rape on Oct. 28, 2009, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was deported back to El Salvador in January 2010. He was a defendant in the civil suit.

Mendez-Morales had said the sex was consensual but, after psychological testing by doctors working for the defense and the prosecution both concluded the victim was not mentally competent to consent to sex, a plea deal was struck in the criminal case and Mendez-Morales was sentenced.

Under Indiana law, a person can be charged with rape if the other person is incapable of granting consent.

A default judgment was issued Friday by the court ordering Mendez-Morales to pay more than $1 million to the victim and her mother based on emotional and physical pain and suffering.

It is The Herald’s policy to not identify victims of sexual assault.

The judgment states that attempts have been made to contact Mendez-Morales but that they were unsuccessful.

Church officials declined to comment on the settlement.

Gomez and another seminarian at Saint Meinrad Seminary were killed in a traffic accident Aug. 21, 2011, near Tulsa, Okla.

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