Two years ago a Catholic priest was accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill a teenager who accused him of sexual abuse. On Thursday, a jury found him guilty.
52-year-old Rev. John Fiala was arrested after a sting set up by The Department of Public Safety and its Texas Ranger Division after one of Fiala’s neighbors went to police claiming the priest had offered him $5,000 to kill someone.
The ‘victim’ was an 18-year-old boy whom Fiala had met in 2007, when the boy was only 16 and when Fiala was a priest at the Sacred Heart of Mary Parish.
Police say that Fiala would meet the teen at the teen’s grandmother’s house and would groom him with gifts like a cell phone, MP3 player, and cash for a car. In 2008, during a trip to a youth event, Fiala allegedly raped the teen at gunpoint in a motel room.
Afterwards, Fiala began abusing the teen at least twice a month. These incidents would take place on church grounds under the guise of private catechism lessons, or in motels when Fiala would drive the boy to meet his girlfriend.
Fiala would keep the teen submissive by threatening to harm his family or his girlfriend if he told anyone. Police got involved after the teen finally informed a school counselor about the abuse.
Fiala thought that if the teen wasn’t around to pursue the charges against him, so he decided he would simply hire someone to kill the boy.
The person he propositioned went to police who then setup the aforementioned sting and arranged for Fiala to meet with an undercover agent posing as a hit man. Police would capture Fiala on video and audiotape offering the agent money to kill the teenager.
Fiala was subsequently arrested and charged with one count of solicitation to commit capital murder and two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child.
After his arrest, authorities found photos of young males on his computer, some of which were wearing only underwear and exposing themselves. They also found a Facebook account used by Fiala under the name “Ziggy the Great,” a person who collected toys and had a Sponge Bob Square Pants calendar.
The church had already removed Fiala as a priest before the accusations of sexual assault emerged, because of his interference with the custodial relationship between the teen and his grandmother. Police have not revealed what, exactly, that interference was.
On Thursday, after his trial concluded with his defense attorney saying Fiala wasn’t serious about hiring a hit man, a jury of three men and nine women returned a with a guilty verdict after a few hours’ deliberation. Fiala was facing life in prison, but the jury sentenced Fiala to 60 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole after 15 years.
The teen and his family have also filed a lawsuit against Fiala as well as the archdioceses of San Antonio, Texas, and Omaha, Nebraska and Fiala’s religious order, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, claiming they should have known what a danger Fiala was and accuses them of covering up his abuse.
“He’s a dangerous predator and has been since at least 1988,” said Tom Rhodes, the teen’s attorney.
“The church has known how dangerous this guy is for many, many years. They had full knowledge, we believe, and the documents seem to bear that out — that they knew what a bad person he was and what a danger he was to children.”