Lawsuit accuses Diocese of Fall River, former bishop of failing to prevent priest's alleged sex abuse of two altar boys
By Brian Fraga
Wicked Local Falmouth
May 12, 2014
FALL RIVER — A lawsuit has been filed in Connecticut that accuses the Diocese of Fall River and its former bishop, Daniel Cronin, of failing to prevent a priest from sexually abusing two boys who were altar servers on Cape Cod for almost decade.
The alleged predator-priest — Monsignor Maurice Souza — died in August 1996 at age 83. The lawsuit accuses Souza of sexually assaulting the victims from the time they were approximately 9 and 10 years old to when both were 17 years of age. Both alleged victims met Souza when he was the pastor of St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth.
The lawsuit, which was filed Jan. 4 and seeks monetary compensatory damages, says the boys were taken to Connecticut and Massachusetts for athletic events and other activities, and that they were sexually abused in both states by Souza from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. The lawsuit says the victims spent nights with Souza in hotel rooms, a church rectory and Souza’s residence in Taunton.
The lawsuit also alleges that Souza would provide “awards and inducements” to the plaintiffs, and that if they refused his advances, Souza would threaten to replace them with another “travel companion” to whom he would provide gifts and rewards.
The lawsuit says Souza also made disparaging and derogatory remarks about one plaintiff's intelligence, athleticism and academic prowess.
“Monsignor Souza was a serial pedophile,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who is representing both plaintiffs.
Representatives from Road to Recovery, a New Jersey-based organization for clergy sexual abuse victims, will talk about the lawsuit during a press conference Tuesday morning outside the Diocese of Fall River’s headquarters on Highland Avenue.
John Kearns, a spokesman for the Diocese of Fall River, noted the lawsuit was filed in January.
“It’s being dealt with,” Kearns said. “I question why (Road to Recovery) are holding a press conference (Tuesday). They’ve done this before, and they make claims without any substantiation.”
Souza, a native of New Bedford, served in several parishes in New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton after he was ordained in 1939. In 1977, he was appointed pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Falmouth.
According to his obituary, Souza served as the dean of the Taunton area for seven years, was moderator of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and served on various diocesan commissions until he retired to the Priest Hostel in Fall River in 1986.
Archbishop Cronin, the retired head of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, was the bishop of the Diocese of Fall River at the time of the alleged offenses. Cronin retired in 2003 after leading the Archdiocese of Hartford for 11 years. He served as bishop of Fall River from December 1970 to December 1991.
The lawsuit accuses Cronin of reckless supervision, negligent battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty and other counts.
The lawsuit says that Cronin and the Diocese of Fall River failed to enforce policies to limit the occasions when adults could be alone with minors, neglected to perform an appropriate background investigation or psychiatric evaluation on Souza, and that they failed to review his conduct and properly evaluate his tenure as a priest and pastor.
The lawsuit says Archbishop Cronin and the Diocese of Fall River “knew or should have known that Monsignor Souza posed an unreasonable risk of harm to minors.”
“They were negligent in their supervision of Monsignor Souza,” said Garabedian, who has represented dozens of clergy sexual abuse victims in civil cases against the Catholic Church. Garabedian said the plaintiffs in the Connecticut lawsuit have suffered tremendous mental anguish, and that both came forward in the past year to disclose the alleged abuse.
“They should be proud of coming forward,” Garabedian said. “They’re empowering themselves, other victims and making the world a safer place for children.”