Family Files Suit against Diocese for Failing to Protect Daughter against Defrocked Hampton Bays Priest
By Erin McKinley
November 19, 2015
A Hampton Bays family is suing the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the Mission of St. Vincenet De Paul, saying they failed to protect an 8-year-old girl from being sexually assaulted by a now fugitive former priest.
Filed on November 13 in State Supreme Court, the suit stems from charges against Augusto Cortez for inappropriately touching a girl who was 6 years old at the time of the assault and, ultimately, giving her a sexually transmitted disease.
According to the suit, both the Mission of St. Vincent De Paul and the Diocese failed to protect the little girl by failing to remove him from the order of St. Vincent De Paul, and for lying about circumstances surrounding a previous case involving a 12-year-old girl in Brooklyn in 2008.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre is a district under the direction of the Roman Vatican that comprises of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, while the Congregation of the Mission of St. Vincent De Paul is a Roman Catholic order based in Pennsylvania.
The family first met Mr. Cortez when he was serving as a priest in the Vincentian Congregation based out of St. Rosalie’s Church in Hampton Bays, where he served until moving to St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn in 2005. Although no longer on the East End, Mr. Cortez kept close contact with the family, often conducting religious ceremonies in the family home. Then in 2008, Mr. Cortez was arrested and charged with fondling the breasts of a 12-year-old student at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish School while the two were alone in a computer room.
Mr. Cortez eventually pleaded guilty to forcibly touching the young student and was placed on probation. Although he was allowed to remain within the Vencentian Order, he was no longer a priest and was barred from performing any acts as a priest. He was also under strict observation by the organization, which had a protection plan in place that specifically said he was not allowed near children, and classified as a level one sex offender.
However, after learning of the charges, the Hampton Bays family contacted members of the order to question the charges and whether he was safe to have in their home. According to the lawsuit, the family says they were told on multiple occasions that the 2008 charges were an “accident,” and that there was no danger, leading them to continue inviting Mr. Cortez to their home.
Then in June 2014, the victim’s mother told authorities that she observed Mr. Cortez adjusting his pants after being left in the room with the young girl. The Southampton Town Police were notified, and Mr. Cortez was questioned, but due to lack of evidence he was released. Later that day, he fled the state, and possibly the country, and has not been seen since. Later that year, the young girl was diagnosed with an STD.
The suit is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, though does not specify specific amounts.