Manny Vega, Esther Miller and Rita Milla were all young, devout Catholics who shared a disturbing experience: they were all victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy.
All three were involved in a class action lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In 2007, a $660 million settlement was reached between the diocese and 508 alleged victims that ended all pending abuse litigation at that time.
Manny Vega was 10 when Father Fidencio Silva started abusing him. It lasted years, until Vega decided to join the Marine Corps. He still remembers how the priest reacted.
“I think at the age of 16 I had mentioned to him that I wanted to join the Marine Corps,” Vega said. “And he kind of looked at me and he laughed. And he goes, you’ll never be a Marine, you’re not a man.”
But Vega joined the corps anyways, as a Marine scout sniper.
In 1989, he went on to win the Medal for Heroism, the nation’s highest peacetime award, for rescuing Marines from a helicopter crash in South Korea.
When he left the armed forces, he became a police officer in Oxnard, California, for 17 years, retiring in 2009. While in law enforcement, he investigated violent crimes, including sexual assaults.
When Rita Milla was 18 she was taken to a house where Father Santiago Tamayo had taken her before, only this time Tamayo brought another priest with him.
It was then and there that Milla claims she lost her virginity.
“He pulled out a condom and basically raped me,” Milla told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “And then I wasn’t a virgin anymore, so I didn’t care anymore. I went into the bathroom and I guess I wanted to flush myself down the toilet.”
Over time, Milla was abused by seven priests, eventually became pregnant, and had her daughter in secret, in the Philippines. It was not until 2003 that a DNA test proved who the father was.
Esther Miller was abused by Deacon Michael Nocita when she was 16- years-old. The abuse occurred mainly in his car, a green Dodge Charger, and she still gets chills whenever she sees one.
“My parents so much so trusted him that they would open the car door, and toss my little suitcase to go spend the weekend to learn about the church with him,” Miller said.
This year, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles released thousands of clergy files showing how they handled numerous accounts of sexual abuse by their clergy.
Today, Milla and Miller are part of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an organization that helps victims of abuse put their lives back together.
All three of them share a common goal: raise awareness to prevent future abuse, and a desire for justice.
Fusion received a statement from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which can be viewed in full here. Fidencio Silva and Michael Nocita declined repeated requests for comment.