Diocese of Santa Rosa settles 2010 abuse case for $3.5 million

“The settlement involves a lot of money," says Bishop Robert F. Vasa, appointed in 2011. "It does not, however, restore peace and tranquility to this child of God."

The Diocese of Santa Rosa announced yesterday that it has paid “a significant settlement” to a victim of the deceased Fr. Ted Oswald, who died in 2010. A statement released by the Communications Office of the Diocese states, “With this settlement, there are no known abuse cases pending against the diocese.” It continues:

Bishop Robert F. Vasa, who has led the diocese since 2011, expressed great sadness for the victim and for all victims.  

“The settlement involves a lot of money. It does not, however, restore peace and tranquility to this child of God. I pray this can come in time.

“I humbly apologize to this young person on behalf of the Church that failed to protect them. I also take this occasion to apologize to all victims for the harm done to them. This perversity, though prevalent in all parts of society, was allowed to persist in the Church for too long. Thus while continuing to be vigilant we must also seek forgiveness. Those who have left the Church because of this scandal must be invited again to believe the Church brings goodness, truth, and the light of Christ’s healing presence and mercy.

“This requires the Church to root out every hint of this type of perversity. This is a task beyond human power. So while we need to maintain attentive vigilance, we especially need to redouble our attentiveness to prayer and works of penance.

“Finally, let me say this: The Diocese of Santa Rosa in California has policies and procedures in place, but everyone in every parish and school needs to cooperate with them if we are to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and everyone else. Sadly, evil will still occur, but it will not ever be tolerated.

“Again let me reiterate my heartfelt plea for forgiveness, recognizing that forgiveness, however difficult, is necessary for authentic healing to take place.”

The money for the settlement, the statement notes, will come mostly from insurance reserves.

An article posted today by The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) and written by Jeremy Hay reports that the settlement was for $3.5 million, “one of the largest settlements paid out by the North Coast diocese in a series of sexual abuse cases that spanned more than two decades.”

The victim’s attorney says the large settlement was due, in part, “to the church’s failure to protect children from the Rev. Ted Oswald, even though it was aware he had abused others.” Oswald molested the then-12-year-old boy in 2010 (the 65-year-old priest died later that same year).

An August 21, 2013 SFGate.com article reported that “Oswald was named in 2008 in another molestation case, which the diocese settled for $1.3 million in 2009. He was placed on leave after the settlement and died in 2010 at age 65.” It also notes that in “the decade before the first lawsuit against Oswald, the Santa Rosa Diocese paid nearly $20 million to settle sex-abuse claims.”

Bishop Vasa was appointed in 2011 to head the Diocese, which previously had a long history of liberal leadership; in the words of the National “Catholic” Reporter in 2011: “conservative bishop to lead liberal local church.

The Press Democrat further reports:

“But for the diocese’s actions, it is entirely possible that this 12-year-old boy would never have been molested,” said Skye Daley, the victim’s attorney.

Bishop Robert F. Vasa, who has led the diocese since 2011, was on vacation Tuesday and unavailable for comment. Diocese spokesman Brian O’Neel rejected Daley’s assertion.

“When the diocese became aware of this most recent allegation, they removed Father Oswald from ministry and reported the situation to civil authorities,” O’Neel said. “The diocese could not do more than the civil authorities could.”

A June 5, 2008, article (only partially available) in The Press Democrat appears to fully support O’Neel’s statement:

LAKEPORT, CA — Friends and parishioners of Lakeport Catholic priest Father Ted Oswald were reeling Wednesday from allegations in a lawsuit that he sexually abused a boy he had befriended more than 10 years ago. “Everybody’s still in shock,” said Mark Thevenot, who has known Oswald and attended his Masses for 20 years. Oswald has been saying Mass at Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Lakeport for two decades. He used the sermon on Sunday to announce he would be taking a leave of absence because of the allegations.

The July 2010 obituary of Oswald, not surprisingly, contains no reference to the abuse allegations.

The Statement from the Diocese can be read in full on the diocesan website.

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About Carl E. Olson 1216 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.