Dorothy Small met the new priest at Woodland’s Holy Rosary Catholic Church in April 2014, and almost immediately the Rev. Renerio Sabuga Jr. began inviting her out for bicycle rides or dinner, Small says.
Within weeks, she said, the priest – known to parishioners as “Father Jong” – would confide in her with intensely private thoughts.
In a matter of months, that stance changed as Small and Sabuga became close and the priest pursued her romantically until Feb. 17, 2015, when the priest “cornered (Small) in her bedroom and sexually assaulted” her, a lawsuit filed Monday in Sacramento Superior Court alleges.
The allegations in Small’s lawsuit are explosive, charging that church officials routinely ignored Small’s requests for help. Her suit was filed by Sacramento attorney Joseph George against the Sacramento Catholic Diocese, Sabuga and Holy Rosary priest Jonathan Molina.
The diocese counters that it acted forcefully to dismiss Sabuga from his duties once it learned there was a problem, and had priests read an announcement in August 2016 at two area churches where he had served. The announcement informed parishioners that officials had “received a credible allegation that Father Sabuga had conducted himself inappropriately with an adult.”
The diocese also provided 30 counseling sessions to Small to help her deal with the matter, and made clear that she could continue to attend services at the Woodland church.
Small, 62, claims that church officials ignored her concerns, with one priest allegedly responding to her sexual assault claim by telling her, “What man wouldn’t want a piece of […] every now and then?” the lawsuit states.
She also claimed in an interview with The Bee that Sabuga made flippant comments about the so-called “11th commandment” at the church: “Thou shalt not get caught.”
The allegations against officials at the Woodland church come four years after another priest at Holy Rosary, 33-year-old Uriel Ojeda, pleaded guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl. Ojeda, now 37, was sentenced to eight years in prison and remains incarcerated, according to online state prison records.
Small’s claims against the diocese are not as clear cut. She conceded in an interview that she and Sabuga were drawn to each other, that they were “incredibly smitten” and that they frequently texted each other. She also says she once kissed him, but says she repeatedly told the priest that they could not have a romantic relationship.
Despite her claims, Small contends she never wanted to sue the diocese, that instead she sought additional counseling sessions from the diocese that eventually were cut off. She also claims that she left the church for a while because of the harassment, and that when she sought to return to the choir earlier this year Father Molina refused to allow her to lead the choir as cantor.
“Can Jong come back?” Molina responded when she asked about returning, the lawsuit states.
Full story at The Sacramento Bee.