‘Is your diaper wet?’ Lawsuit alleges priest sexually abused, mocked altar boy at NYC church

Staten Island Advance [Staten Island NY]

July 24, 2021

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A former altar boy is making shocking claims of sexual and verbal abuse allegedly perpetrated decades ago by a priest at a Roman Catholic church in West Brighton.

The Rev. Thomas Curley is named as the offender in a lawsuit filed under the state’s Child Victims Act recently in Manhattan state Supreme Court.

The Archdiocese of New York and Sacred Heart R.C. Church are listed as defendants.

The suit was filed by the Herman Law Firm on behalf of an anonymous alleged victim, referred to in the litigation as S.T.

S.T. was raised in a “devout Catholic family that worshiped at Sacred Heart,” according to the filing.

The abuse started around 1978 when the plaintiff was about 11 years old and a participant in a class for altar boys taught by Father Curley, who was a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart from 1978 to 1989, the lawsuit alleges.

“Shortly after Plaintiff became an altar boy at Sacred Heart, Father Curley began sexually abusing and assaulting plaintiff,” according to the lawsuit. “The acts of sexual abuse and assault perpetrated by Father Curley against plaintiff include, but are not limited to: Father Curley fondling plaintiff’s penis; Father Curley digitally penetrating Plaintiff’s anus causing it to bleed; frottage (rubbing against victim); and forcing plaintiff to fondle Father Curley’s genitals for Father Curley’s sexual gratification.”

The lawsuit alleges that Father Curley sexually abused S.T. about 10 times, always on church property, except for one time on a parish-sponsored bus trip to an amusement park. Some of the incidents occurred on or near the altar, the filing alleges.

Father Curley “engaged in intimidating behavior by putting a firm grip on plaintiff’s shoulder and squeezing until it hurt” and “grabbing plaintiff behind the altar to sexually abuse him by the back of plaintiff’s neck,” the lawsuit alleges.

He also humiliated the child “in front of other altar boys by saying things like ‘Is your diaper wet?’ and ‘Does your diaper need to be changed?’ and ‘We need to check your diaper,’” according to the filing.

The lawsuit alleges Father Curley “squeezed” the boy’s genitals until he wet himself, and “would then humiliate plaintiff by commenting on his wet pants and sending him out to the other altar boys with wet pants.”

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff was present when the priest groped other boys.

“Father Curley would also put his hands on plaintiff while talking to him, then while talking would put his hand on plaintiff’s buttocks and held it there,” according to the lawsuit. “Plaintiff saw Father Curley do the same thing with other boys in the altar boy class.”

The lawsuit accuses the Archdiocese and the church of negligence regarding the “hiring, supervision, placement, training and retention” of Father Curley.

Sacred Heart “knew or should have known that plaintiff was being sexually abused” and “failed to terminate the perpetrators of the sexual abuse, namely Father Curley,” the lawsuit says.

Sacred Heart R.C. Church in West Brighton is shown in this file photo. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)
Sacred Heart R.C. Church in West Brighton is shown in this file photo. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

Father Curley retired due to medical reasons in 2015, according to Catholic New York. He is in his mid-70s and his last known address is in Greene County in the Catskills, according to public records.

Attempts to obtain a phone listing for him were not successful.

Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Archdiocese, confirmed that Father Curley is retired, but provided no further comment.

“The Archdiocese of New York takes seriously all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, and treats those who bring forward allegations with dignity and respect,” Zwilling has said in prior unrelated lawsuits. “However, we cannot comment on specific lawsuits that are brought under the Child Victims Act.”

Father Curley served as administrator of St. Sylvia’s in Tivoli in Dutchess County, from 2008 to 2015, pastor of St. Christopher’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn, from 2008 to 2010, and St. Columba’s in Chester in Orange County from 1990 to 2008. He was administrator of Nativity of Our Blessed Lady in the Bronx from 1989 to 1990.

He also was a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ardsley in Westchester County from 1977 to 1978, Holy Trinity in West Point from 1972 to 1977 and St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx, from 1970 to 1972, according to Catholic New York.