Staten Island Advance [Staten Island NY]
March 26, 2021
By Kyle Lawson
A former resident of a Catholic-run foster home for girls on Staten Island claims she was sexually assaulted and abused on several occasions by a man assigned to oversee the home.
Details of the abuse — which allegedly occurred over the course of 1978 at a home operated by Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Tompkinsville — are laid out in a March 15 lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Attorneys for the complainant— a New York state resident whose identity is kept anonymous to avoid risk of “further humiliation, trauma and psychological damage” — named the Archdiocese of New York, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and Our Lady of Good Counsel as defendants in the civil complaint.
The suit is among several filed recently by former and current New Yorkers under the state’s Childs Victims Act. The legislation has allowed plaintiffs under the age of 55 to take civil action against their alleged abusers; previously, survivors only had until the age of 23.
Suit: Adults Were Aware
The Austin Place Home for Girls was established by Our Lady of Good Counsel as a non-profit facility that operated under the guidance of the Archdiocese of New York and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, according to Advance/SILive.com records and the court filing.
The church converted its convent to provide domiciliary care for youths who were without a home or court-approved guardian to take them in.
The complainant was placed there in 1978 when she was 14 years old, and was one of about 20 other girls under the legal and physical custody of a married couple who worked as live-in caretakers, court documents state.
According to the suit, the victim was sexually assaulted and physically abused by Terence O’Neill, who was “under the supervision and control of [the Archdiocese of New York].”
O’Neill, who was about 30 years old at the time, oversaw the home along with his wife and at least one other staff member, the lawsuit states.
The accused sexually abused the complainant almost daily for about one year, often in common areas of the home within view of other residents and staff, and “sometimes while the plaintiff did chores,” the suit alleges.
Attorneys say O’Neill would touch the plaintiff’s privates while pleasuring himself; also alleging other girls at the home were sometimes physically abused.
The Archdiocese has not responded to multiple requests for comment in regard to the lawsuit, however, a spokesman has previously said the Archdiocese “takes all allegations of sexual abuse seriously and responds with compassion and respect.”
“We have made great strides both in responding to victim-survivors, but also putting into place measures in our parishes, schools, and other agencies, including background checks and safe environment training, to ensure that such acts never happen again,” the spokesman said.
‘Extensive Physical Abuse’
The filing alleges that at one point, the 14-year-old victim suffered a head injury while being sexually abused by the defendant.
After telling a nurse named “Felicia” about the ongoing abuse and how she was injured, lawyers say she was treated at the home in lieu of a hospital and instructed to keep it quiet.
Based on “readily observable signs of extensive physical abuse” against girls at the home— which at times were observable to adults with ties to the parish— the Archdiocese “should have known that Our Lady of Good Counsel was not safe…” the suit alleges.