Servite removes name of priest from aquatic center amid sex abuse claims

Orange County Register [Anaheim, CA]

July 8, 2022

By Scott M. Reid

The school’s decision follows the filing of a lawsuit that claimed Father Kevin Fitzpatrick molested and sexually abused a student in the 1970s

Servite High School is removing the name of Father Kevin Fitzpatrick from the school’s aquatic center after allegations were made that Fitzpatrick molested a Servite student in the 1970s, according to a letter obtained by the Orange County Register.

The decision follows the recent filing of a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court against Servite, the Diocese of Orange, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Order of Servants of Mary by the survivor that alleges Fitzpatrick molested and sexually assaulted him more than a dozen times a year.

The man decided to file suit after coming upon the Father Kevin Fitzpatrick Aquatic Center, a $5.7 million state of the art facility completed in 2017, during a visit to the Servite campus in the summer of 2021.

The suit is possible because of Assembly Bill 218, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 and went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, created a three-year window to file past claims that had expired under the statute of limitations.

Alleged survivors must file civil suits within eight years of becoming an adult or three years from the date an adult survivor “discovers” or should have discovered they were sexually abused, under current California law.

The law requires that plaintiffs meet a mental health practitioner and receive a certificate of merit to file under AB218. The man has received a certificate of merit to file, according to his attorney Michael Reck.

The Servite decision to remove Fitzpatrick’s name from the facility “shows the power of the new law and how powerful this survivor coming forward is,” said Reck.

“This decision is because this survivor stepped forward and told the truth,” Reck continued. “Servite didn’t wake up one day and decide to do the right thing. This decision was forced on them.”

Reck said additional survivors have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against Fitzpatrick.

“Survivors of Father Fitzpatrick do not need to live in silence and shame,” Reck said. “They can come forward and they do have rights and I am so very proud of the brave ones who have already come forward and forced this change on Servite.”

Servite president Chris Weir did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Servite, in a letter to the school’s community, said that after “careful thought and prayerful consideration” it was removing Fitzpatrick’s name from the center pending the outcome of a review by the school on the allegations. The move, the letter said, was to “demonstrate our commitment to healing and reconciliation.”

“These allegations are deeply troubling and were previously unknown,” the letter continued. “Together with the Order of Friar Servants of Mary, Servite High School is engaged in a thorough review of the allegations. As Catholics, we must do everything we can to reduce the suffering and pain of others. We offer our prayers for continued strength and healing for all survivors of abuse.”

Fitzpatrick worked at Servite from 1970 to 1992. He was transferred to Our Savior Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1993 and then a church in suburban Portland, Oregon in 1994. Fitzpatrick died in 1997.

Fitzpatrick, known as Father Fitz, was a beloved coach and teacher at Servite. In addition to coaching, teaching, maintaining the school’s pool, opening it up to neighborhood kids, Father Fitz was known for giving Servite students free haircuts on the pool deck and in the barber chair he kept in an office in the school’s annex.

“Father Fitz was a model friar, providing counseling and spiritual direction, and it is important to take time to say thank you,” then-Servite president Pete Bowen said during an April 2016 groundbreaking ceremony for the aquatics center.

The survivor, now 60, in an interview with the Register and court filings, portrays Fitzpatrick as a predatory priest who regularly preyed on a small, shy and insecure boy.

“The first two years (at Servite) I assumed he got me in,” said the man, who estimated he stood 5-foot-5, 125 pounds as a freshman. “The first two years I was petrified that at any moment I would be out.

“I was a very little kid and I looked feminine.”

The man estimates that “at least 20 times a year” while he was at Servite, Fitzpatrick would tell him he needed a haircut and bring him to his office and tell him to sit in the barber chair.

“He would put hair clips in my hair and say ‘what a pretty girl you are’ and masturbate. And he would tell me ‘don’t you dare move.’

“It was a ritual. It was gross to me. I was terrified.”

“I feel sorry for that kid,” the man said. “I changed my name (as an adult) because I want that guy gone. I didn’t want to be that kid anymore. Because that kid was so fragile. I cried every day. I cried every day until my 18th birthday.”

The sexual assaults stopped during the boy’s senior year when he grew to 5-8, 190 pounds.

“I remember one time he literally said, ‘Come get a haircut’ and I said no,” the man recounted. “And he realized I could break his jaw.”

The suit also alleges Sevite employees missed obvious signs that should have alerted them to Fitzpatrick’s misconduct. The man also suspects he wasn’t Fitzpatrick’s only alleged victim.

“Father Fitz had a room, it’s his own space. With a barber’s chair,” the man said. “That’s a red flag. And then like all of a sudden was gone.

“He was the most popular person at the school and all of a sudden he was gone. They transferred Father Fitz. Why?

“I can’t just be an isolated case. I just can’t.”