Lawsuit Alleges That Diocese of Orange Leaders Ignored Child Sex Abuse Complaints Tied to Priest Who LED Boys Choir
Orange County Register
February 17, 2017
A former member of the All-American Boys Chorus has filed a lawsuit against a disgraced priest and the Diocese of Orange, alleging that church leaders ignored complaints of child sexual abuse.
At the center of the lawsuit is Richard T. Coughlin, the now-defrocked priest who founded the chorus in Costa Mesa and who over the years has been accused of sexual abuse by at least a half-dozen people, resulting in more than $3 million in settlements.
The newly filed lawsuit describes Coughlin as a serial pedophile whose gregarious and charismatic nature and Irish brogue masked decades of abuse.
According to the lawsuit, allegations of sexual abuse involving Coughlin first emerged in 1957, when he was still in Boston. A series of alleged victims of Coughlin’s contacted diocese leaders in both Boston and Southern California over the next several decades.
Diocese of Orange leaders, according to the lawsuit, “knowingly allowed and encouraged a priest with numerous uninvestigated allegations of pedophilia to found and operate a boys chorus, which involved his routinely taking the boys on overnight trips for days and weeks at a time.”
According to the lawsuit, the unnamed plaintiff was 10 years old when Coughlin began sexually molesting him. As he entered adulthood, the plaintiff got into a series of “brushes with the law,” according to the lawsuit, until during a counseling session in 2015 he began to come to terms with his childhood trauma.
“Consciously and subconsciously, plaintiff suppressed the memories and experiences of abuse out of fear, guilt, shame and deep confusion,” Attorney Anthony DeMarco wrote in the civil complaint, adding that the church’s protection of Coughlin only added to the plaintiff’s guilt and confusion.
The lawsuit was initially filed without identifying the defendants – including Coughlin, the Diocese of Orange and the All-American Boys Chorus. On Friday, a Superior Court judge gave DeMarco permission to identify the defendants.
In a statement released following the filing of the lawsuit, the Diocese of Orange said it and the church have “publicly acknowledged past failings and have apologized personally to victims of abuse and their families and worked to reach a fair resolution of every legitimate abuse claim, enabling victims to begin their healing. ...
“The church has worked hard to protect children,” the statement said. “Much has been done, but more needs to be done. Until abuse is no longer a part of society, the church will continue its efforts to stop it.”
Ordained in Boston, Coughlin moved west in 1965. But local church leaders argue that Coughlin never “served as a priest” for the Diocese of Orange.
During the late 1960s and early ‘70s, when Coughlin was assigned to churches in Santa Ana, Anaheim and Costa Mesa, they were still under the leadership of the Diocese of Los Angeles. By the time the Diocese of Orange was created in 1976, Coughlin was focused on leading the chorus, which he had founded in 1972.
The plaintiff in the newly-filed lawsuit alleges that he was abused from 1990 to 1992. The Diocese of Orange said it permanently removed Coughlin in 1993.
DeMarco challenged the diocese’s description of its relationship with Coughlin, saying while he may not have had a parish assignment under the Diocese of Orange, he was still heavily involved in the church.
“They are being disingenuous at best,” the attorney said. “He was still a priest. He was still walking around calling himself Father Coughlin.”
The lawsuit seeks damages from Coughlin, who DeMarco says still lives in Orange County, the Diocese of Orange, and the boys chorus.