Abuse Victim Suing Church Testifies He Is Still in Pain

By Bruce Lambert
New York Times
May 1, 2007

Garden City, N.Y., April 30 — The body language may have been as telling as the testimony.

The young man suing the Roman Catholic authorities over the sexual abuse he suffered moved restlessly on the witness stand in State Supreme Court here on Monday, as if in constant distress.

Looking forlorn, he leaned back in his chair, then tilted his head and leaned to the left, then shifted to the right. He scooted to the edge of his chair, hunched over and braced his arms on the railing. He rubbed his face, looked up, looked down, and sometimes spoke directly to the jury.

Some of his answers were hesitant and confused. Others were not.

"Children don't go to church to have sex with adults," he blurted out.

Now 22, he testified that at 15 he was induced into heterosexual, homosexual and group sex by Matthew Maiello, the youth ministry director at St. Raphael's Roman Catholic Church in East Meadow, on Long Island. The witness also said that Mr. Maiello gave him marijuana and beer, told him to have sex with a 15-year-old girl from his youth group, and had group sex with both teenagers, sometimes photographing and videotaping it.

He and the female victim, who is now 23, filed a $150 million civil suit against Mr. Maiello, St. Raphael's, its pastor and the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The suit says the last three defendants bear responsibility because they hired Mr. Maiello without proper background checks, failed to supervise him and ignored complaints about his conduct.

Mr. Maiello, 33, is not contesting the suit; the other defendants deny responsibility. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of four teenagers, including the two victims suing him. He served two years in prison.

Years after the abuse ended, the witness said he was still haunted by nightmares and panic attacks triggered by things like seeing a parishioner from St. Raphael's. He often resorts to marijuana, pills and alcohol to "numb" his feelings, he said. His schooling, work and personal relations have all suffered, he said. After eight semesters, he has not graduated from community college. He recently quit his supermarket job because he was too embarrassed to explain why he needed time off for the trial, he said.

He had two girlfriends but could not kiss the first because of flashbacks that "made me nauseous," he said. He was unable to be intimate with the second, though they loved each other, he said.

That was two years ago, and he has not had another girlfriend since, he said. "The only sex I had was in an abusive relationship," he testified. "I was unable to distinguish between healthy sex and unhealthy sex and abuse."

He said his first sexual encounter with his fellow plaintiff, whom he called a good friend, was directed by Mr. Maiello and took place in the basement of St. Raphael's convent. He was not aroused, he said. "I just felt so disgusted," he said. "I was so confused."

But Mr. Maiello persisted the next day, and on many more days, eventually arranging an estimated 100 encounters, the witness said. "He was telling us what to do, step by step," the young man said, adding that he felt obligated to comply. "I was in a whole gigantic fog."

When Mr. Maiello turned on the cameras, "I just wanted to hide under the covers, actually," the witness said. He still worries that there are naked pictures of him, at 15, on the Internet.

Sex with Mr. Maiello was the worst part, he said, because he "didn't want to have sex with another man."

After Mr. Maiello left St. Raphael's to teach at Kellenberg Memorial High School, a Catholic school in nearby Uniondale, he invited the two teenagers to the empty auditorium sound room there and said, "Let's do it in here," the witness said. "The next thing I know," the witness said, "he's locking the door."

Later, Mr. Maiello tried to get the youth to have sex with a Kellenberg student, showing him panties that supposedly belonged to her. "I said no," the witness said, adding that it was his last contact with Mr. Maiello.

In cross-examination, the lawyer for the church, Brian Davey, challenged the witness's credibility. For example, Mr. Davey asked about the man's history of disciplinary problems in middle school, before the abuse started, and asked about his use of illegal drugs.

Throughout the testimony, the female victim sat in the back of the courtroom, jiggling her knees and fidgeting. She testified last week.


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