Sexual Tormentor Testifies, but Victims Can't Bear to Listen

By Bruce Lambert
New York Times
April 25, 2007

Garden City, N.Y., April 24 — A former church youth director who confessed in 2003 to the statutory rape of four teenagers took the witness stand on Tuesday in a civil trial, but the two victims who are suing him were not present. They had left the courtroom here earlier, saying they could not bear to see him again.

The witness, Matthew Maiello, 33, admitted many of the victims' accusations but denied some of their claims. He said repeatedly during his testimony in State Supreme Court here that he could not remember important details, and a few times invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Mr. Maiello was imprisoned for two years for his crimes as director of the rock Mass and youth ministry at St. Raphael's Roman Catholic Church in East Meadow, N.Y. The lawsuit is against him, St. Raphael's, its pastor and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The two plaintiffs have testified that Mr. Maiello abused them several times a week for three years at numerous places, including his office, church pews and a parochial school principal's desk. But he repeatedly answered "I don't recall" or similar variations to dozens of questions about such details.

A lawyer for the victims, Ben B. Rubinowitz, said, "You had sex so many times you can't specifically remember the number of times."

Clean-cut, well-spoken and appearing confident, Mr. Maiello frequently parried with the lawyer and even smiled or laughed a few times. Mr. Rubinowitz demanded, "Do you think this is funny?"

Mr. Maiello turned downcast when he admitted directing the two victims, a boy and a girl who were 15 when the abuse started, to have sex with each other for his pleasure, and when he admitted having sex with the boy as well as with the girl.

Underscoring who initiated the sex and who kept pushing the boundaries, Mr. Rubinowitz said, "It was all your idea, correct?"

"Yes, sir," Mr. Maiello answered.

The lawyer also asked, "Did you tell them what to do?"

Mr. Maiello said, "Yes."

As the youth ministry director, Mr. Maiello acknowledged, he was responsible for the safety of the young people in the program, their religious instruction and their "spiritual and social needs, and for keeping their activities "Christ-centered."

He conceded that it had been "inappropriate" for him to take advantage of the girl, who he said had "a crush" on him, since he was a decade older and a church leader.

He admitted that he lavished praise on her, romanced her and even set a marriage date for November 2006. He also admitted he had directed her to keep their activities secret.

But Mr. Maiello adamantly denied one of the victim's claims, in her testimony the day before, that he had repeatedly said it was "God's will" that they be together and have sex.

He also denied other details of her account, including her claims that he had rewarded her with songs and roles in music programs, gave her marijuana and alcohol, never used a condom, demanded that she provide oral sex when she was menstruating and repeatedly forced her to have anal sex.

"No!" Mr. Maiello said, denying that last allegation. "No, sir. That never happened."

Referring to church rules that Mr. Maiello should never be alone with a youth and should have no physical contact beyond a handshake, the lawyer said, "You never intended for one second to follow that."

Mr. Maiello answered, "That is correct."

Mr. Maiello has little money and is not contesting the lawsuit, which seeks $150 million and contends that church officials are also responsible because they hired him without proper checking, failed to supervise him and ignored complaints about his conduct. The church defendants claimed they knew nothing about the crimes and argued that only Mr. Maiello was to blame.

Under questioning, Mr. Maiello said that the pastor did not check his prior employment and never checked his office on the many occasions he was alone with young people and having sex there.

Earlier, the church's lawyer, Brian R. Davey, questioned the female victim to show that while Mr. Maiello became a friend of her family, no relative questioned his conduct. Though she claimed emotional impairment, Mr. Davey questioned her about winning awards as an honors college student, being elected senior class president and leading an active life biking, surfing and snowboarding.

"I get up and put a mask on and hide my feelings," she testified, adding that she does whatever is necessary "just to get through the day."


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