San Diego County Superior Court
The new San Diego County Superior Court in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

Four sexual assault victims of a convicted and now- deceased Catholic priest will sue the Diocese of San Diego early next year, as recently-enacted legislation allows the men to sue for damages even though the abuse occurred outside of the statute of limitations, the attorney representing the victims said Wednesday.

The suit will be filed Jan. 2 on behalf of the victims of Father Anthony Edward Rodrigue, who was assigned to 10 parishes across San Diego, Imperial, San Bernardino and Riverside counties over his 29-year career. During that time, attorney Irwin Zalkin said Rodrigue molested more than 150 boys and was routinely moved from one parish to another without punishment from church officials.

Following his removal from the priesthood, Rodrigue pleaded guilty in 1998 to molesting an 11-year-old developmentally disabled boy and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Rodrigue died in 2009.

Due to recently-enacted AB 218 — co-authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego — the plaintiffs in the latest suit will be allowed to sue the Diocese despite the abuse occurring in the 1960s and 1970s. AB 218 opens the window for similar lawsuits for a three-year period starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Kevin C. Eckery, vice chancellor and diocese spokesman, released a statement Wednesday regarding the litigation, in which the Diocese urged Rodrigue’s victims to contact the church for compensation and counseling, which they can receive whether or not they decide to take legal action.

“Former San Diego and San Bernardino priest Anthony Rodrigue was a destructive sexual predator active in the ’60s,’70s and ’80s who rightfully was sent to prison for his crimes. Our hearts and prayers and deepest apologies go out to his victims and all victims of clergy sex abuse,” the statement read.

“Regardless of the legal issues involved, we have a moral obligation to provide help to any victim-survivor of that abuse and we would urge their attorney to contact us so that counseling can be arranged at our expense. There are no prior conditions and the offer of counseling stands whether or not they sue the diocese.

“We would also invite them to participate in the Independent Compensation Program established this fall as an additional avenue they can use to pursue their legal claims. There are no costs or obligation to victims. If they go through the compensation program and reject the compensation offer they receive, they have not given up their right to pursue their claim in the courts. In most cases, a victim-survivor will receive an offer within 90 days of their claim being finalized.

“No amount of money can make up for the evil done to victims of priestly sex abuse. However, the San Diego Diocese continues to work diligently to support the victim-survivors and to prevent such crimes from ever occurring again.”

Zalkin said church officials were made aware of Rodrigue’s inclinations as early as his years in the seminary and did nothing despite the Diocese having “an avalanche of knowledge and notice of his propensities to abuse children.”

The attorney said that despite numerous complaints from parents, he was not disciplined, but rather moved from one parish to another and given more opportunities to abuse children.

Marvin Mayne, one of Rodrigue’s victims at a parish in Calexico, said he came forward now to help stop any future abuse of children, which he said was ongoing.

“This isn’t done for money. It’s being done for what’s right,” Mayne said. “If anybody thinks it stopped, it hasn’t. It needs to stop.”

— City News Service