3 adults, including priest, sexually abused young Mount Loretto resident, suit alleges

Staten Island Advance [Staten Island NY]

July 18, 2021

By Frank Donnelly

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Three adults, including a priest, sexually abused him over the course of six years when he lived at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin at Mount Loretto three decades ago, a former resident alleges in an explosive lawsuit.

His assailants also threatened the plaintiff, who was in his early teens, with physical violence if he revealed what they did to him, alleges a civil complaint against the New York Archdiocese.

Despondent, the boy attempted suicide “numerous” times while at Mount Loretto, yet was never provided mental health care, the complaint alleges.

The suit was recently filed in state Supreme Court, St. George, under the Child Victims Act. The plaintiff seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Enacted in August 2019, the Child Victims Act created a one-year window for plaintiffs of any age to sue alleged abusers regardless of when the abuse occurred.

That window was extended to August of this year.

The law also allows victims of sexual abuse to sue their alleged abuser any time before they turn 55.

The range of complaints under the Child Victims Act has sent shockwaves across Staten Island.

Lawsuits have been filed against Roman Catholic schools and churches, the Boy Scouts, a Pentecostal church, a youth athletic institution and even one man’s parents.

Besides the Archdiocese, the plaintiff in this latest suit has sued Catholic Charities of Staten Island, which, the complaint alleges, operated Mount Loretto in Pleasant Plains.

Now a Georgia resident, the plaintiff is listed in court papers under the pseudonym “John Doe6.”

Due to the alleged abuse, he suffers from “severe emotional trauma and distress” which has adversely impacted his life, said the complaint.

“It’s a real travesty and a shame that children who had nowhere else to go were placed in an environment where they were subject to regular abuse,” said Bradley L. Rice, the plaintiff’s lawyer. “These survivors of abuse are entitled to justice after all these years.”

In an email, Joseph Zwilling, an archdiocese spokesman said: “The archdiocese takes all allegations of abuse seriously and responds to those who bring such allegations with respect and sensitivity. However, I cannot comment on specific lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act.”

According to the complaint, the plaintiff was placed in Mount Loretto around 1986. He was 10 or 11 then.

He spent the first year housed at the DDU unit. Then, in 1987, he was transferred into the RTC housing unit, said the complaint.

Once there, the home supervisor “began grooming plaintiff for sexual abuse,” the complaint alleges.

The older man instructed the boy to perform sexual initiation rituals, said the complaint. He told the plaintiff they were a normal part of the residential experience in that house, the complaint said.

The sexual abuse escalated to the point where the supervisor molested him on a regular basis through 1993, alleges the complaint.

The supervisor threatened physical harm if the boy reported what he was doing to him, the complaint said.

Specifically, the older man said he’d drown the teen, telling him, “You are just a poor kid” and “No one would ever care,” alleges the complaint.

Those threats notwithstanding, the boy reported the abuse to a social worker and therapist in the winter of 1989 or 1990, the complaint said.

However, nothing was done, and the abuse continued, alleges the complaint.

Two other adults also sexually abused the boy, the complaint alleges.

One was an unnamed priest at Mount Loretto to whom the plaintiff was introduced in 1990 or 1991.

Over the course of a year, the cleric molested the boy and also threatened him, alleges the complaint.

To ensure the youngster’s silence, the priest told older boys to physically assault him, the complaint said.

A female supervisor also sexually abused the plaintiff in 1988 or 1989, alleges the suit.

She, too, threatened him to gain his silence, the complaint said.

“As a direct result of his sexual abuse,” the boy attempted suicide multiple times while at Mount Loretto, said the complaint.

But he alleges he was never afforded mental health treatment.

The suit alleges the defendants knew or should have known supervisors and other adults at Mount Loretto “were sexual predators and were sexually abusing plaintiff.”

The defendants also failed to protect the boy from abuse and did not have policies in place to prevent child sex abuse, the complaint alleges.

The suit is one of several filed over the past two years in which a number of one-time Mount Loretto residents allege they were abused at the hands of nuns, priests and lay employees at the former orphanage.

Some of the alleged incidents date as far back as the 1950s, with the last extending into the early 1990s.

As the suits became public in the summer of 2019, several former Mount Loretto residents rallied to the mission’s defense. They told the Advance/SILive.com they were unaware of any sexual abuse that allegedly occurred on the grounds, nor had they ever heard of such incidents.

Mount Loretto served as a children’s shelter beginning in the late 1800s and fostered thousands of children over its 100-plus-year history. Many were wards of the court, either orphaned or from broken homes and other dire circumstances.

By 1964, it was the largest child-care institution in the U.S. The average stay for most youngsters was three years, but some could spend their entire teenage years at the facility.

The end of foster-care service was announced in 1994. Today, the campus is run by Catholic Charities of Staten Island and is home to two public schools, a senior and a community center, a food pantry and a day-care facility.