Corpus Christi, Texas, Jun 22, 2019 / 08:01 am (CNA).- Three priests have filed suits against the Diocese of Corpus Christi and its bishop, claiming that they were wrongfully included in a list of clerics credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor within the diocese.
The Corpus Christi Caller Times reported June 20 that Fr. Jesús García Hernando had filed a suit over his inclusion on the list. In March, both Msgr. Michael Heras and Fr. John Feminelli filed similar suits.
The suits state that “Defendants knew the statement was false and acted with reckless disregard for the truth. The publication of the statement was made with malice.”
All three are being represented by Andrew Greenwell of Harris & Greenwell, who told the Caller Times that a fourth suit may be filed as well.
The diocese had earlier filed motions to dismiss the suits from Heras and Feminelli, saying the list was “made in good faith.”
The Corpus Christi diocese released a list of credibly accused clerics Jan. 31, amid a wave of such admissions throughout the US following a Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse by clerics in six of the state’s dioceses.
Announcing the list, Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi said that “an Independent Committee comprised of outside legal professionals reviewed all cleric files to determine whether an allegation was credible,” and that “in some cases, files were also reviewed by the Diocesan Review Board.”
The diocese “accepted all recommendations from the Independent Committee and the Diocesan Review Board regarding the names to be included on this list,” he stated.
The bishop added that the diocese “has worked diligently to be accurate with the information presented,” and said that “if any information is found to be incorrect” the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator should be contacted.
His statement included a nota bene that “A determination that an allegation against a member of the clergy is credible is not equivalent to a finding by a judge or jury that the cleric is liable or guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor under canon, civil or criminal law.”
On the list were 26 clerics, 12 of whom are deceased.
According to the list, Fr. Hernando was incardinated into the Corpus Christi diocese in 1983, and was ordained the following year in Burgos. He was excardinated from the diocese in 2000, and was removed from ministry in 2011.
Greenwell told the Caller Times that Hernando is still a priest in Spain.
The Caller Times said that Hernando was indicted in 1996 on charges of sexual assault and indecency with a child related to an alleged 1992 incident with a 15-year-old altar boy. Hernando returned to the US from Spain after the indictment. He was not convicted, and the criminal case was dismissed; the prosecutor indicated he needed more evidence than the accuser’s testimony.
He has also been accused in a suit “of molesting at least two other men from 1991 to 1994.”
According to the diocese’s list, Fr. Feminelli was ordained for the diocese in 1987, and retired in 2007. The Caller Times said in February that a couple filed a suit against the diocese in 1988, “claiming diocese employees circulated false information about their 15-year-old son.” Feminelli was accused of buying the boy gifts in exchange for “wrestling matches” in a hotel room.
The Caller Times wrote that “the suit alleged slander and libel,” saying the bishop and priests “humiliated the family, causing the boy to recant … No wrestling matches took place, the boy said in court.”
Msgr. Heras was ordained for the diocese in 1984, and was removed from ministry in 2014.
That year, district attorneys received complaints of inappropriate conduct which was alleged to have happened 25-30 years earlier. Criminal investigations were not pursued, but a civil suit was filed in October 2018.
A diocesan directory of priests which indicated it was last updated Oct. 30, 2018, listed Feminelli as retired. Heras’ status was not indicated.