Lawsuit by Priest Charges Sex Abuse

New York Times
June 11, 1993

A parish priest and two other men who say they were sexually abused by priests when they were children today sued Roman Catholic Church leaders under the Federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The suit in Federal District Court in neighboring Camden, N.J., is the first time the RICO statue has been invoked against church officials or in a sexual abuse case, according to legal experts. The Rev. Gary R. Hayes, one of the plaintiffs, is also the first priest to sue church officials for childhood sexual abuse by another.

The suit accuses two priests, the Rev. Joseph H. McGarvey of Audubon, N.J., and the Rev. William C. O'Connell of Providence, R.I., of conspiring "to create a sex ring of children that could be sexually abused by the two Roman Catholic priests, and on information and belief, other priests."

Also named in the lawsuit are the parish churches to which the priests were assigned; six priests and bishops in supervisory positions who the suit says "knew or should have known" the abuse was taking place; the National Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the United States Catholic Conference.

Priest Is on Leave

A spokesman for the two Catholic organizations declined to comment on the case, saying that the organizations did not yet have copies of the lawsuit. The Diocese of Camden said in a statement that it also could not comment on the charges, and added that Father McGarvey was on a leave of absence at his own request.

According to the suit, the molestation took place from 1965 to 1972, while Father Hayes and two fellow plaintiffs, Steven M. Stolar and Terrence M. Smith, were students at St. Mary's Catholic School in Millville, N.J., where Father McGarvey was pastor.

The suit charges that the three boys, then in their teens, were frequently transported across state lines by Father McGarvey and Father O'Connell "for the express purpose of having forcible sexual contact with then minor plaintiffs."

The suit charges that the defendants tried to coerce the three plaintiffs to be silent, and had "deliberately and with malicious intent obstructed the reporting and filing of complaints with civil authorities."

Negligence by Church Charged

Father Hayes said in an interview today that filing the suit had been a difficult decision for him. "I'm sad because I turned to the church for help and they did nothing," he said, referring to his previous efforts to report the molestation to church officials. "And if I can't get help, and I'm a priest, what chance does a young child have?"

The suit charges that the church leaders were "negligent in hiring and retaining McGarvey and O'Connell in their employ as priests," and that they made "the conscious decision to protect the reputation of the church" by transferring the priests from one parish to another.

Legal experts interviewed today expressed reservations about the suit's use of the Federal statute that is usually used to prosecute organized crime cases and other major conspiracies.

Robert D. Luskin, head of of the RICO Committee of the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association, said the plaintiffs in this case may be "swimming against the tide, because courts are generally hostile to civil RICO and novel and expansive uses of the statute by private plaintiffs."


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