The woman states Ralph Garza — a former Corpus Christi Catholic Church lay employee — groomed her for months in 2000 and then molested her while attending the Willowbend neighborhood church. According to the recently-filed lawsuit, she met Garza for counseling when she was 13 and he “put her in ever more isolating situations to be with him.”
Eventually, he forced her to touch his genitals, she said in the lawsuit.
The woman’s San Antonio-based attorney, Justin Hill, said she has been undergoing treatment for the abuse.
“She has been trying to get herself healthy, as well as some amount of justice to what happened to her,” Hill said. “She has attempted to work with the church and avoid litigation.”
The archdiocese on Wednesday filed a response to the lawsuit, denying the allegation and demanding that the woman “prove her charges and allegations.” The archdiocese said Thursday “it cooperated in the prosecution of the alleged perpetrator when this case first surfaced two decades ago.”
Garza was arrested in 2001 and later convicted of indecency with a child in an incident involving a girl. Hill said his client is the same victim whose complaint resulted in that criminal investigation. Garza is a registered sex offender living in Houston.
A sworn statement from a Houston police investigator outlines the initial complaint. The girl’s parents arranged with a parish priest for Garza to counsel her after an abduction attempt. Garza, then 22, picked her up for one of their meetings, which was at his apartment. This her parents knew, the investigator said.
At the apartment, Garza was sitting on a couch with her and “talking about her issues” when he kissed and fondled her, court records show. The girl then asked that Garza take her home.
The investigator said Garza denied any wrongdoing but said it was not professional of him to take the girl back to his apartment. He also said he hugged her.
By the time of his arrest, Garza was no longer a church employee.
Garza in 2004 was convicted of failure to comply with sexual registration requirements. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to two counts of indecency with a child in Nueces County, records show. Details behind that investigation were not immediately available.
Lay employees, such as Garza, were not part of the archdiocese’s 2019 list of those with credible child sex abuse accusations. Seminarians were also excluded. The list only included clergy, 40 of whom were identified in the document.
Hill said the archdiocese was aware that his client was a victim “for a long time.”
“I do not think they have made any real attempt to now right the wrong,” he continued.