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2 Former Mater Dei High School Students Accuse Former Principal, Counselor Of Sex Abuse

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – Two former Mater Dei High School students have sued the Diocese of Orange this week, alleging they were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a former counselor and a former principal while attending the private Catholic Santa Ana school.

The plaintiffs, a man and woman whose names were not revealed in the lawsuits filed in Orange County Superior Court, allege they were abused when they were 15 years old.

They filed the lawsuits 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, located at 1202 W. Edinger Ave.

The other lawsuit was also filed Tuesday by a man born in 1963 who alleges he was sexually assaulted by former Mater Dei principal the Rev. Michael Harris.

According to the woman's lawsuit, Balsis "befriended" her and would "summon her into his office under the guise of providing counseling services," but then "proceeded to tell 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.

Her lawsuit claims that Diocese officials knew that Balsis had committed "prior acts of childhood sexual abuse" and "failed to take reasonable steps or implement reasonable safeguards to protect" her from him.

In the second lawsuit, a man alleges 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)."

The man alleges Harris "comforted" the teen before performing a sex act on the teen, the lawsuit reads.

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. 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 said it had not been served any new lawsuits. A statement from the Diocese said, in part:

"Policies and practices geared toward extinguishing incidents of abuse...are working. In fact, rare (to our knowledge) are recent instances of abuse."

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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