Judge Excludes New York Diocese from Abuse Suit

By Peter Franceschina
Fort Lauderdale (FL) Sun-Sentinel
October 15, 2003

A Palm Beach County judge on Tuesday threw out a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., that alleged church officials there were negligent and fraudulently concealed an abusive priest's past before sending him to Palm Beach County.

It is the second time this year that parts of the lawsuit have been dismissed. The case alleged that the Rev. Matthew Fitzgerald sexually abused a 20-year-old Palm Beach County man 13 years ago when the priest served at St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens.

In April, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Winikoff dismissed the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the Diocese of Palm Beach as defendants in the case because the statute of limitations expired four years after the alleged incident. That left just Fitzgerald to face the accusations, but the judge also allowed the attorney for the alleged victim to amend the lawsuit to try to find other legal avenues to get around the statute of limitations.

Winikoff dismissed the amended allegations against the Long Island-based diocese on Tuesday. The Diocese of Palm Beach will seek to have the suit dismissed on the same grounds at a later hearing. Winikoff ruled that the actions of the Diocese of Rockville Centre were too far removed from what allegedly happened in Palm Beach County.

"It's a tough situation," said Fort Lauderdale attorney Russell Adler, who represents the alleged victim.

There was a string of complaints against Fitzgerald involving allegations of sexual misconduct with boys and young men in New York and Florida. Fitzgerald, 59, denies any wrongdoing.

Miami attorney Douglas Jeffrey, who represented the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said he was pleased with the ruling but declined to make further comment.

The Diocese of Palm Beach forced Fitzgerald into retirement in 2000 but allowed him to work in a limited capacity for the Catholic charity Food for the Poor in Deerfield Beach. His priestly rights were taken away last year after he allegedly tried to say a public Mass and recruit people for a pilgrimage.

[Peter Franceschina can be reached at or 561-832-2894.]




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