A former seminarian who accused a Livermore priest of raping him in 2017 has settled a lawsuit against the Diocese of Oakland for $3.5 million.
The plaintiff, who filed his lawsuit as “John Doe,” immigrated to the United States from Mexico with his parents. Last year, he told the Investigative Unit that he was tied up and raped by Father Michael Van Dinh at St. Michael Catholic Church.
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Van Dinh’s accuser said the priest lured him to the church under the false pretense of helping him land a job as a receptionist for a friend.
“He sat me down in a chair and gave me a gift bag,” Doe said in a 2019 interview when he was 26-years-old. “In the gift bag he had oils, and chocolate, and underwear. He grabbed me and he said, ‘I want to give you a massage.’ I was frozen. I was in shock.”
After the ordeal was over, Doe said he was able to make a break for it when Van Dinh went to make breakfast, running from the residence and reporting the incident to another priest. According to the lawsuit, that priest immediately reported the alleged assault to a representative of the Diocese.
But according to a police report obtained by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit, four days would pass before the Diocese reported the accusation to Livermore police.
“The Diocese of Oakland purports to prioritize the victim in these types of cases, whether it involves a minor or an adult victim,” said Sandra Ribera-Speed, John Doe’s attorney. “They want to provide counseling for the victim. They want to provide resources to make the victim whole again. And that didn’t happen in this case. They’re not practicing what they preach by covering up the truth.”
When police searched Van Dinh’s living quarters, they found a trove of unpriestly items, including a meth pipe, sex toys and condoms, according to the police report. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to charge Van Dinh, telling NBC Bay Area there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the encounter was not consensual.
Ribera-Speed said her client agreed to the settlement fearing his parents would be deposed by attorneys for the Diocese if they took the case to trial.
“He made the decision to settle the case based on pressure from the Diocese because the Diocese of Oakland was essentially threatening to depose his parents and John Doe had not told his parents and he didn’t want to tell his parents about the sexual abuse he experienced,” Ribera-Speed said. “The reason for that is because John Doe’s parents are devout Catholics. They still are devout Catholics.”
In a statement, the Diocese of Oakland said Van Dinh remains on leave and continues to receive compensation from the Diocese.
“The Diocese of Oakland considers all allegations of misconduct by clergy serious,” the statement said in part. “The Diocese has had policies and a formal process of reviewing and responding to allegations in place for many years. When allegations were made against Dinh, the Livermore Police Department investigated, and no charges were filed by the district attorney.”
While on leave, the Diocese said Van Dinh is not able to function as a priest in any capacity.