2 priests at same South Shore parish face sex-abuse allegations; group calls for their removal

Staten Island Advance [Staten Island NY]

March 22, 2021

An advocacy group is calling on Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, to remove from ministry a pastor and parochial vicar at Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church in Huguenot amid sex-abuse allegations.

The Rev. Thomas Devery, pastor of the large parish on the South Shore, acknowledged in a letter to parishioners dated March 18 that sex-abuse claims are pending against both him and the Rev. Basil Akut, a parochial vicar.

The pastor’s letter came days after the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a support group for victims of alleged abuse, issued a news release on March 15 claiming that Cardinal Dolan did not inform Sea parishioners about the allegations.

SNAP alleged that Fathers Devery and Akut were allowed to continue in ministry after claims were made against them.

“It seems to us that in the interest of openness and transparency, Archdiocesan officials, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, owe it to the faithful at Our Lady Star of Sea to inform them of such allegations and urge anyone with information to come forward and report to law enforcement,” SNAP said.

The release continued: “It also seems to us to be irresponsible for the Archdiocese of New York to allow both clerics to remain in ministry despite the allegations. We urge Cardinal Dolan to remedy this disturbing situation immediately.”

Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP, told the Advance/SILive.com that “it is our position that neither of these men should be serving in any parish position until the investigation is completed. If the investigation does bear out that the claims are credible, then they should be defrocked so they cannot use their position of power and prestige to hurt anyone else in the future.”

“I am not going to comment on SNAP’s statement,” said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese. “They don’t have any credibility.”

Zwilling referred the Advance/SILive.com to Father Devery’s letter to parishioners.

The Rev. Thomas Devery, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church, has been accused of sex abuse in the 1980s, according to a lawsuit filed in 2019. (Staten Island Advance)
The Rev. Thomas Devery, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church, has been accused of sex abuse in the 1980s, according to a lawsuit filed in 2019. (Staten Island Advance)

Letter from Pastor

In his letter, Father Devery said that Father Akut no longer is serving the parish.

“Although Fr. Basil denies the accusation, and should be considered innocent until proven guilty, he has voluntarily stepped away from the parish until the matter is investigated,” the pastor wrote. “The case has been referred to the district attorney.”

Father Devery said in the letter that about four years ago, one person filed an unsuccessful claim against him through the Archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) “alleging that nearly four decades ago I had committed an act of abuse with a minor.

“Under the archdiocesan policy at the time and with the knowledge of the district attorney, allegations brought under the IRCP did not result in a priest’s immediate removal from the parish, and so I was permitted to remain a pastor while the matter was thoroughly investigated by law enforcement, independent forensic investigators, and ultimately, the archdiocesan lay review board. In the end, the allegation was found to be unsubstantiated, and the individual’s claim was denied.”

The same alleged victim filed a lawsuit against Father Devery under the Child Victim’s Act, the pastor said.

“Once again, I steadfastly deny the allegations. Because the matter has already been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated, I have been permitted to remain in my role as your pastor.”

Father Devery became pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in 2014 after serving as administrator of Our Lady of Pity R.C. Church in Bulls Head, according to Advance/SILive.com records.

Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church in Huguenot as photographed on March 22, 2021. (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)
Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church in Huguenot as photographed on March 22, 2021. (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)

The Lawsuits

The Jeff Anderson & Associates firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of an anonymous victim in August 2019 in state Supreme Court in Manhattan alleging that Father Devery abused an altar server at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton R.C. Church in Shrub Oak, Westchester County.

“In approximately 1984, when plaintiff was approximately 15 years old, Fr. Devery engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with plaintiff,” according to the lawsuit.

Named as defendants are the Archdiocese of New York and the parish in Westchester.

“The defendants negligently retained Fr. Devery in a position where he had access to

ren and could foreseeably cause harm which plaintiff would not have been subjected to had defendants taken reasonable care.

“In failing to timely remove Fr. Devery from working with children or terminate the employment of Fr. Devery, defendants failed to exercise the degree of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised under similar circumstances.”

The filing alleges that the victim suffered “physical, emotional, and psychological injuries, along with pain and suffering.”

separate lawsuit filed earlier this month alleges that Father Akut sexually assaulted a divorced women from Staten Island who was seeking counseling.

Father Akut, the lawsuit alleges, used his position as a priest “to offer counseling services… in order to isolate, manipulate, and groom her for sexual abuse” in or around 2015.

The lawsuit — filed against Father Akut, the archdiocese and Our Lady Star of the Sea — seeks unspecified damages.

The woman, whose identity is not disclosed in the court filings, started receiving counseling from Father Akut after she had been “through a divorce and was suffering, among other things, from a deep depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety,” the lawsuit alleges.