Father Santiago Tamayo one of a group of priests that assaulted teen girl
The case files of Father Santiago Tamayo and Father Angel Cruces read like lurid dime-store novels.
Appropriately enough, the tales of how Tamayo, Cruces and five other priests sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl were fodder for the tabloids in the 1980s, which dubbed it “Snow White and the Seven Priests.”
The tale went public when victim Rita Milla came forward after becoming pregnant at age 19. Milla, a parishioner at St. Philomena church in Carson, told church officials in 1983 she was pressured by Tamayo to have an abortion, and she eventually went to the Philippines to have her daughter.
One of the documents in the newly released files includes a denial by Tamayo that he encouraged an abortion.
Also included is a letter the teen gave to church officials in 1983 but never sent to the priest who she believed fathered the child, Father Valentine Tugade. Tugade’s paternity was finally proven by a DNA test in 2003, but in 2007 Milla’s attorney, Gloria Allred, told reporters they did not know if he was still alive.
“Val, Why the hell haven’t you written me or called me,” Milla wrote. “Aren’t you interested to know how I am or how your baby is? You make me extremely angry. I’ve cried so many times because of your lack of concern.”
She also asks him for his blood type and for money to help with her hospital and delivery costs.
That was around the same time that Tamayo and the other priests fled to the Philippines to escape criminal investigation and civil litigation.
Tamayo’s file is dominated by memos and correspondence between Cardinal Roger Mahony and Monsignor Thomas Curry, the vicar of clergy, on how to keep Tamayo out of the country. There is also a letter in the file written to the cardinal in 2002 from a man alleging he was also abused by Tamayo.
Tamayo resigned as a pastor in 1984 and was placed on active leave by the archdiocese, though he continued to work as a priest in the Philippines. Tamayo died in 1996. Cruces died that same year.
Milla eventually received $500,000 as part of the record $660 million sex abuse settlement in 2007 from the L.A. Archdiocese following a decades-long legal battle. More importantly, she says is the vindication she received with the public admission of guilt and apology issued by an ailing Tamayo in 1991.
Today, Milla is an activist with the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
She said in an interview Friday she tried to steel herself for the release of the new documents but she still was unprepared for the fresh wave of hurt and crushing depression that it triggered.
“I saw the letter, and I must have written it, but I don’t remember it,” she said. “It was a shock. I guess I just totally repressed it. I blocked so much out.”
Now 50, she works as a medical assistant. Her daughter, now 30, is getting married soon, and Milla also has a son, now 23, with her husband Scott Lewis.
“My kids were raised without religion, so they are happy,” Milla said.