Woman Sues Armenian Priest

Author: Pablo Lopez
Date Published: 06/23/1993

She Alleges a Sexual Relationship, And He Says, ”It’s All Fairy Tales.”

A Massachusetts woman has sued a prominent Fresno priest, accusing him of inducing her into a sexual relationship.

The Rev. Sasoon Vartabed Zumrookhidian, 38, of the St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno, denied the allegations made by Karen King.

Zumrookhidian said Tuesday that the lawsuit was part of an effort to discredit him. ”It’s all fairy tales,” Zumrookhidian said.

The suit, filed in Fresno County Superior Court, alleges the relationship began in April 1992 and ended five months later when Zumrookhidian shunned King, prompting her to try suicide by taking sleeping pills.

The suit asks for unspecified damages for King’s emotional distress, defamation, battery and other complaints.

King, who is in her 30s, could not be reached to comment. Her lawyer, Mary Louise Frampton of Fresno, said King preferred to resolve the matter in a confidential hearing, but church officials refused.

Zumrookhidian’s lawyer, Howard Sagaser, said Zumrookhidian wanted to resolve the charges in court.

”It’s easy to make allegations, but harder to prove them,” Sagaser said. ”We want our day in court.”

According to the suit, King and Zumrookhidian became acquainted by telephone in April 1992 while she was working at a Massachusetts computer business, which provides technical assistance to Armenian churches.

King alleges in the suit that Zumrookhidian became her spiritual counselor, inducing her to confide in him about her personal life and to engage in intimate sexual discussions.

She alleges she met Zumrookhidian at the Hilton Hotel in Syracuse, N.Y., on May 26, 1992, where Zumrookhidian ”used his position as a celibate priest and as her spiritual leader to induce [King] to enter into a sexual relationship.”

A month later, King alleges in the suit, she flew to Fresno, met Zumrookhidian to continue their sexual relationship and to interview for an office manager’s job at the St. Paul Armenian Church, which Zumrookhidian promised would be hers.

With the promise of employment, King said she filed for divorce and moved to California July 25, 1992.

But her relationship with Zumrookhidian soured, she alleges, when a girlfriend of King’s refused to submit to Zumrookhidian’s sexual advances and when he said he would not hire King for the office manager’s job.

She then took an overdose of sleeping pills and was hospitalized in September 1992. King has returned to Massachusetts and reconciled with her husband.

The suit alleges that Zumrookhidian has told others in the church that King was insane, a lesbian and had a history of engaging in sexual relationships with priests.

It also alleges that Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, head of the Western Diocese of North America, ordained Zumrookhidian, knowing that ”Zumrookhidian had been denied ordination in the eastern diocese because his lifestyle was not compatible with that of a celibate priest.”

Hovsepian and other church officials Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Zumrookhidian said he knew about King’s intention to file suit since last fall, when King’s parish priest called him to say King wanted $10,000 to avoid a lawsuit.

Zumrookhidian said he and Fresno parish authorities refused to pay.

”If she wants to sue, she can. Then we’ll have our day in court and show that [the allegations] are complete lies,” Zumrookhidian said. ”The parish counsel has full confidence we will win.”

Bee staff writer John D. Cramer contributed to this story.