Lawsuits against Father Decosta Persist

By John Burnett
Hawaii Tribune-Herald
March 23, 2017

Fr. George Decosta

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu has settled one of three civil lawsuits that allege a prominent retired Big Island priest sexually molested teenage boys decades ago, according to the attorney for the plaintiffs in the cases.

Oahu attorney Mark Gallagher said Monday the settlement of the 2013 suit brought by two men known only as John Roe 6 and 7, concerns only the diocese and “there is no dismissal of any claims against Father George DeCosta.”

For almost three decades, DeCosta, now 79, was the parish priest at Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church in Keaukaha. The two anonymous plaintiffs said the alleged abuse took place in the 1960s when they were students at Damien Memorial School in Honolulu and DeCosta was the school chaplain.

The school and Congregation of Christian Brothers of Hawaii, which operates the school, also are defendants in the suit filed in Honolulu Circuit Court.

Neither the settlement, nor dismissal of the case against the diocese, which comes with the settlement, appeared on the state Judiciary’s website as of Tuesday. Gallagher said terms of the agreement aren’t confidential, “but I don’t have authorization from my client to share any of the details.”

Gallagher also represents the claimants in the two other cases, John Roe 49 and 55, which name DeCosta and the diocese as defendants. Both suits were filed in Honolulu Circuit Court in April 2016.

“There have been no settlements with any of the defendants completed in those cases; there have been no dismissal of any of the defendants in those cases,” Gallagher said.

Roe 49 alleges DeCosta abused the plaintiff in 1983, when the claimant was about 16 and a student and parishioner at St. Joseph’s School and Parish in Hilo. Roe 55 states the alleged abuse took place in 1965 when the plaintiff was 15 and a student at St. Stephen’s Seminary on Oahu.

All the cases allege DeCosta made unwelcome contact with the teens’ genitals and he forced them to reciprocate. The suits accuse DeCosta of abusing his power, authority and influence as a clergyman. The filings also allege the diocese knew or should have known DeCosta was a pedophile and failed to protect the minors.

“There have been court-ordered mediations in all cases involving the Diocese of Honolulu. What’s happening in terms of negotiations within the mediation, I can’t comment on … because they are under the court’s order,” Gallagher said. “I can say the mediations of those cases involving Father DeCosta have taken place. They have been completed and there has been no agreement reached with Father DeCosta.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu spokeswoman Laurie LaGrange said in an email the diocese “has made no settlements on DeCosta’s behalf, nor have they covered any of his attorney fees.”

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu is not at liberty to provide information on these cases, due to provisions of the court orders, creating the mediation process. Any information concerning plaintiffs will need to come from the plaintiffs themselves or their attorneys,” the email stated.

Gallagher said if any of the cases are dismissed with prejudice due to settlement, which means they can’t be refiled, “that’s just language that has to be in there so they won’t be reopened, and the settling parties would demand it.”

“It’s certainly no exoneration of Father George,” he added.

Neither DeCosta nor his attorney, Jared Washkowitz, returned phone calls seeking comment by story deadline.

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