Houston's Catholic charities facing lawsuit

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The suit accuses the organization of not doing enough to protect children from a former employee convicted of a sex crime (KTRK)

A lawsuit has been filed against one of Houston's most known charities that help tens of thousands of families every year. The family of a victim in a sex abuse case claims they placed the organization above protecting children.

The court documents filed this week at the Harris County Civil Courthouse list Carlos Antonio Valera, whose current address is the Wayne Scott Unit of TDCJ in Angleton as well as his former employer, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as defendants. The attorney representing the family, Rob Ranco says, "We would like an admission. We would like an apology."

Valera was convicted of indecency with a child and sentenced to 7 years in prison earlier this year. Records from the investigation say the victim was waiting in the lobby of the charity in 2007 when Valera, an employee at the time, offered the 11-year-old candy to get him into his office. The boy was told his family, who just immigrated from Cuba, wouldn't get help if he told.

Ranco adds, "So how do you get behind closed doors access to at least one child and apparently more when it's not even part of your job description."

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston provides social services on everything from adoption to immigrant services. It serves about 80,000 people a year. It's near the top of the list on Charity Navigator, the nation's largest charity evaluator. It's been given four stars for the past 13 years.

Ranco says, "We've learned our incident is not an isolated incident." The lawsuit claims negligence of the organization and "willful disregard for the well-being of others and cover up that has persisted at the charity for nearly a decade." Records from the criminal investigation tell of a 2005 story where another family made a complaint to the senior administration that Valera had a relationship with their middle school son. Ranco says, "This was all reported by the family to the Catholic Charities and apparently nothing was done."

Interviews during the investigation of the case include notes that an employee told investigators she was told by co-workers to "keep Valera away from children." Ranco says, "It was documented but this man continued to work there for like five more years after that, which gave him opportunity to come into contact with my client." Another co-worker told investigators Valera was "inappropriately visiting one of her clients."

A spokesperson for Catholic Charities released this statement:

    "Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston provides a comprehensive network of social services aimed at promoting and facilitating self-sufficiency. We offer support and opportunities that empower people and communities to grow and thrive.

    In the course of caring for thousands of individuals, we periodically encounter challenges. In 2011, a former employee (who had been terminated by Catholic Charities in 2009) was arrested and charged for engaging in inappropriate behavior with a minor. Catholic Charities did not know about this young man's allegations until we received an inquiry from the Grand Jury. Catholic Charities fully cooperated with the investigation. The former employee was later sentenced to seven years in prison for his actions.

    Due to ongoing litigation, no further comments may be provided at this time."

The attorney for the family says, "It's our intention to make them sit up and take notice and admit what happened here." The victim is now 18 and Ranco says his recovery will be a lifelong process adding, "As embarrassing and horrifying as it is, he wants his story to be told."

The family is seeking more than a million dollars in damages and asking for a jury trial. They now live out of state. Valera will first be eligible for parole in 2017.
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catholic churchreligionlawsuitsex abuseHouston
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