SANTA ANA (CNS) – Two former Mater Dei High School students have sued the Diocese of Orange alleging they were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a former counselor and principal.
The plaintiffs, a man, and woman whose names were not revealed in the lawsuits filed in Orange County Superior Court, alleging they were abused when they were 15 years old. They filed the lawsuit under a new law that allows for a three-year window of claims that would otherwise be barred by a statute of limitations.
The woman, who was born in 1980, alleged in her lawsuit filed Thursday that she was abused by former counselor Bernie Balsis in 1995 when she was a student at the private Roman Catholic high school at 1202 W. Edinger Ave.
Balsis “befriended” her and would “summon plaintiff in his office under the guise of providing counseling services,” but then “proceeded to tell the plaintiff that he loved her, hugged her and pressed his erect penis against her while his hands were underneath her skirt manipulating her
buttocks,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit alleges that Diocese officials “knew or had reason to know, or were otherwise on notice of prior acts of childhood sexual abuse committed by (Balsis), and despite such knowledge and/or notice, failed to take reasonable steps or implement reasonable safeguards to protect plaintiff from childhood sexual abuse…”
The lawsuit also alleges that the woman “complained about” Balsis’ “inappropriate touching,” but school officials “refused” to report him to law enforcement.
The other lawsuit was filed Tuesday by a man born in 1963 who alleges he was sexually assaulted when he was 15 years old by former Mater Dei principal the Rev. Michael Harris.
Harris was listed by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which was the predecessor to the County of Orange’s Diocese, as a serial predator with 12 accusers during 1972 through 1990, according to the lawsuit.
The man said he was summoned to the principal’s office and told he might be expelled because of poor grades.
He said he was “visibly distraught and worried about how his mother would react knowing how hard she had worked to get (him) into (the school),” according to the lawsuit.
The man alleges Harris “comforted” the teen before performing a sex act on the teen, according to the lawsuit.
In 2012, the Diocese of Orange settled a sex-abuse case for $2 million that involved a decorated Air Force pilot, who said he was abused by Harris in late 1986 or early 1987.
Harris was also involved in a $5.2 million settlement in 2001, and another settlement with the Diocese of Orange and Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2005.
The Diocese of Orange on Friday issued a statement saying that Monsignor Michael Harris, the former Mater Dei principal named as a perpetrator in one of the lawsuits, is on the Diocese’s online list of “credibly accused priests.”
Diocese officials say they have not been served with the current lawsuits and do not comment on pending litigation.