For the past two years, Christina Ruiz had to keep her mouth shut while strangers freely called the 28-year-old mother a slut. She was Jane C.R. Doe, the anonymous plaintiff who filed a civil suit against the Catholic Diocese of Orange, alleging that church officials did nothing as Mater Dei High School assistant boys' basketball coach Jeff Andrade molested her from 1995 to 1997. The lawsuit sparked a wave of name-calling, insinuations and other vile words on Orange County Internet chat rooms, with people claiming to know Ruiz insisting she was a seductress and asked for the unlawful sex. "She was far from innocent," went one typical comment on the Weekly's blog, Navel Gazing. "What a victim! Who poses for a newspaper photo! Get real!"
"It really hurts," says Ruiz. "But what really hurts is that those people are blind to the reality of what happened at Mater Dei."
Ruiz spoke with the Weekly in an exclusive interview shortly after she and two other victims of sex abuse at the hands of Orange diocese employees publicly identified themselves for the first time this Monday before the press. The interview was in the offices of Manly, McGuire & Stewart, the Newport Beach law firm that has sued Catholic dioceses across the world for sexual abuse and won four settlements against the Orange diocese totaling $6.685 million last Friday.
She says the abuse first started in 1995, when Ruiz was a sophomore at Mater Dei and Andrade taught driver's education while moonlighting as an assistant on the school's powerful boys' basketball team. Andrade forced her to fellate him the first time; subsequent assaults took place in Mater Dei classrooms, Andrade's home, hotel rooms—even in the offices of Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight.
Mater Dei officials were first alerted to Andrade's predatory ways in the spring of 1996, when an English teacher intercepted a note from a student claiming Andrade was having sex with another student. Andrade denied the charges at the time, but he was let go the following year after an anonymous source told Mater Dei officials that Andrade was having sex with Ruiz. Ruiz admitted to the molestations, but Andrade denied everything.
"My parents decided to press charges and reported the abuse to the Westminster Police Department," Ruiz says. Detectives conducted an investigation that revealed, among other things, Andrade's colleagues warning him to stay away from Ruiz. Ultimately, Westminster police declined to file charges. (In a 2006 deposition, Andrade finally admitted to having sex with Ruiz at Mater Dei.) The lack of prosecution left Ruiz and her parents "devastated." Shortly afterward, Ruiz left the Catholic Church.
"I wanted nothing to do with the diocese," she says. "My grandparents lived near Mater Dei, so whenever I'd visit them, I'd try to take streets that wouldn't go near the campus."
Ruiz went on with her life and had a child in 2000. Two years later, the Boston Globe revealed decades of sexual-abuse cover-ups in the Boston Archdiocese; the following year, the California Legislature passed a resolution allowing victims of Catholic sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators even if the statute of limitations had expired. Eighty-seven people filed claims against the Orange diocese, and Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown settled those lawsuits for $100 million in 2005, at the time the largest molestation settlement in the history of the Catholic Church. But Ruiz didn't file.
"I was still scared by the entire experience when I was a student," Ruiz says. "I felt they wouldn't believe me this time around, either."
A conversation with her mom helped Ruiz fight the fear. "She encouraged me to be a good mom," Ruiz says. "A good mom does everything possible to help their child when they're hurt. To not let anything happen to them. That's what she tried to do with me when I attended Mater Dei. I owed it to myself to seek some justice against my molester."
Represented by Manly, McGuire & Stewart, she filed suit against Andrade and the Orange diocese in 2005; depositions dragged on for almost two years. Many explosive revelations ensued: Andrade's admission; the fact that Mater Dei boys' basketball coach Gary McKnight defied school administrators and allowed Andrade back on campus; that school officials paid Andrade $100,000 in a secret settlement; and the recent breakdown of Monsignor John Urell, the man in charge of investigating sex-abuse allegations in the diocese. In turn, diocesan attorneys deposed Ruiz for seven days, asking about her sexual history. "They dragged my name through mud," she says.
Ruiz wants to help other sex-abuse victims get on with their lives. "I'm hoping that any other victim out there will use my story as some kind of way to encourage them to come forward and hopefully stop any more abuse from happening in the Orange diocese."
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Her first bit of activism: Get in contact with Varsity Gold, one of the country's top high-school fund-raisers. Andrade is currently a regional representative for the Arizona-based company; he was in Orange County as recently as July.
"It's unbelievable that he could still be around schools," Ruiz says. "If he's done it with me, I'm sure he can do it again."
Read Gustavo Arellano's related article: Fiddlin' in St. Agustine