|L.I. Catholic Church Faces Sex Abuse Lawsuit
April 16, 2007
Mineola, N.Y. — The leadership of a Long Island Catholic church was negligent in failing to uncover a youth minister's sexual attacks on teenagers in his care, an attorney for two of the victims argued Monday during opening statements in a rare lawsuit resulting from the nationwide sex abuse scandal to actually go to trial.
"The question here is not so much about Matthew Maiello — the sex predator, the beast," attorney Michael Dowd told jurors. "The question here is who let the beast loose? Who let him loose to run free through the flock of Rev. Thomas Haggerty, picking his victims at will?"
Dowd represents a man and a woman who claimed that as teenagers they were repeatedly abused by Maiello, and that church officials failed to act when confronted by reports that the youth minister was acting inappropriately.
Maiello pleaded guilty to rape and sodomy in 2003 and served more than two years in prison. Although named as a defendant, Maiello's attorney, Lawrence Carra, said last week that his client would not contest the allegations in the lawsuit and would abide by any verdict.
The real focus is St. Raphael's Church in East Meadow, its pastor, the Rev. Thomas Haggerty, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
"This is a case about responsibility," Dowd said, insisting that neither Haggerty nor anyone from the diocese performed any background checks on Maiello before he was hired.
The U.S. Conference of Bishops estimates abuse-related costs from lawsuits have exceeded $1.5 billion, the majority out-of-court settlements. Many of the alleged acts took place long before statutes of limitations expired.
The lawsuit filed by Dowd on behalf of two victims seeks $150 million in damages. Dowd said two others were victimized by Maiello, but are not part of the lawsuit.
On Long Island, a grand jury found nearly two dozen cases of abuse going back decades in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the nation's sixth largest with 1.3 million Catholics in 134 parishes.
Attorney Brian Davey said all the blame for the sex attacks rests on Maiello, not the church leadership.
"Father Tom is not responsible for what Matthew Maiello did," Davey said in his opening statement. The attorney insisted that Haggerty was never specifically told, nor given any evidence, that Maiello was abusing teenagers.
Dowd's clients — both 15 when the abuse began — have not been identified by The Associated Press because they are victims of sex crimes. The lawsuit also contends church leaders did little to educate themselves about the risks of possible sexual exploitation of children ahead of Maiello's guilty plea.
A Suffolk County grand jury report in early 2003 cited abuse cases involving 23 priests in the Rockville Centre diocese over several decades. The allegations included altar boys being groped and sodomized during church trips, overnights at priests' homes, and many other instances when children were left alone with their abusers.
Bishop William Murphy, who came to Long Island in the fall of 2001, was named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. But state Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cozzens said in a pretrial ruling he is not liable because the abuse predated Murphy's arrival in Rockville Centre.
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