Teen sex-abuse victim sues Rockville Centre diocese

By Bart Jones
October 16, 2018

A teen sex-abuse victim alleges church workers ignored policies to protect children, in a lawsuit against Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Patchogue, above; a former pastor, the Rev. Benet Uwasombra; Bishop John Barres and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
Photo by Daniel Goodrich

A teen sexually abused by Efrain Villafane, above, a former music director, alleges church workers ignored policies to protect children, in a lawsuit against Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Patchogue and the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Villafane pleaded guilty in 2017 to third-degree rape and was sentenced to 10 years of probation.

The lawsuit alleges church workers, including the pastor at the time, failed to enforce policies designed to prevent such abuse. It seeks unspecified damages.

The former music director at a Roman Catholic church in Patchogue sexually abused a teen girl repeatedly for more than a year as church workers ignored policies put in place to protect children, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

The girl, who was 15 when the alleged abuse started in 2015, was sexually assaulted in a chapel and in a classroom at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, as well as in the music director’s car and at a motel in Patchogue, states the lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau County.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the girl, now 18, names the parish pastor at the time, the Rev. Benet Uwasombra; the parish itself; Bishop John Barres; and the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which Barres heads. It is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

The former music director, Efrain Villafane, now 62, pleaded guilty in 2017 to third-degree rape of the girl, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. Villafane was sentenced to 10 years of probation and was certified as a Level 2 sex offender, which the state considers at moderate risk to offend again. As such, he must register as a sex offender for life.

The district attorney's office could not immediately say why Villafane received no jail time.

Villafane and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre said Monday it learned in August 2016 that Suffolk police were investigating Villafane and that the diocese immediately contacted the district attorney’s office to cooperate.

“As is our practice, pastoral support, including counseling by professionals experienced in the care of survivors of sexual abuse, was, and continues to be, offered to the survivor and the survivor’s family throughout this difficult ordeal,” diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said.

The girl’s attorney, Michael Dowd of Manhattan, said the case shows that despite numerous sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, policies put in place continue to fail to protect children.

“What has our Catholic Church learned from all of the negative media about their failing to do reasonable and responsible things related to sexual abuse of a minor?” Dowd said in an interview. “The answer is nothing.”

One day, Uwasombra found Villafane and the girl alone in the chapel but did nothing, even though it is against church policy for an adult to be alone with a minor, the lawsuit states. After the priest left, Villafane forced the girl to have sexual intercourse with him, according to the lawsuit. The girl at one point told Uwasombra about the alleged abuse, but the priest told her not to tell anyone because “I don’t want another scandal to get out” and “Only tell me, I will take care of this,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that parish employees saw Villafane alone with the girl on multiple occasions in the chapel and other locations, but did nothing to stop it.

Barres did not take over the diocese until January 2017, but the lawsuit states the girl met with him after Villafane was indicted and told the bishop that Uwasombra had told her to keep quiet about the alleged abuse.

The lawsuit states that the diocese and Barres "took no corrective employment action against Father Benet or for that matter did not take any corrective or remedial actions against those employees who knew or should have known" that Villafane was spending time alone with the girl.

Uwasombra was transferred to the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in North Merrick in June 2017, and last June to St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church in Dix Hills. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The diocese declined to discuss Uwasombra's role.

The alleged abuse started in summer 2015, when Villafane insisted that the girl, a longtime altar server who was baptized and confirmed at Mount Carmel, join the church choir, the lawsuit states.

Not long after, Villafane asked the girl to come out to the church parking lot to see his new car, the lawsuit states. He then asked the girl to get into the car, where he abused her, the lawsuit states.

Villafane told the girl to come to Wednesday evening choir practice 30 minutes early, and would abuse her in the chapel, according to the lawsuit.

Eventually he started taking her to a motel in Patchogue most Saturdays and abused her there, the lawsuit states.

Police eventually uncovered the alleged abuse partly because Villafane’s girlfriend — suspicious he was having an affair — placed a recording device in her car, which Villafane sometimes used, the lawsuit states.

The girl’s mother complained to parish employees in January 2016 that Villafane was often alone with her daughter at the parish, the lawsuit states. One employee responded with words to the effect, “That can’t happen here anymore, it violates VIRTUS,” the diocesan anti-sex-abuse training program and policy, the lawsuit states.

Eventually, the girl, who the lawsuit says had not reported the abuse partly because Villafane threatened her, informed a church volunteer and Suffolk police of the alleged abuse.



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