Diocese Sued for $300 Million; Sex Abuse Alleged in Queens
The Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens was slapped with a 63-page lawsuit on Tuesday by 43 men and women who claim their sexual molestation at the hands of priests was covered up by church officials for decades.
Twelve diocesan priests and one Catholic brother are named in the $300-million suit, as well as Bishop Thomas Daily and his predecessors. The abuse allegedly took place as long ago as 1960 and as recently as 1984 in at least 10 Queens parishes, including ones in Douglaston, Bayside and Floral Park.
“It’s mind numbing, the things I’ve found out,” said Michael Dowd, a Manhattan-based lawyer for the plaintiffs. “Queens is a virtual cesspool of sexually aberrant priests. They’re all over.”
Father James Smith, who, according to the complaint, was assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in Whitestone from 1966 to 1976, is accused of molesting 22 boys and 4 girls. Some of the alleged abuses took place when Smith was assigned to Our Lady of Grace Church in Howard Beach in the early 1960s.
Smith also served at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Middle Village and, most recently, at St. Kevin’s Parish in Flushing.
The complaint accuses Father James Collins of molesting young boys in three of the Queens parishes he was assigned to through the years—St. Michael’s in Flushing, St. Margaret’s in Middle Village and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills.
The complaint states Father Collins also served at St. Clare’s Church in Rosedale for several years. He was assigned as chaplain at Bishop Kearney High School for Girls until recently when allegations were made public.
According to the suit, the victims ranged in age from 7 to 16 and all of the children were either students in elementary or secondary schools operated by the diocese or students receiving religious education. Many of them were altar boys or employed part time in the parish, where they were allegedly molested.
“They showed such arrogance and abuse of power,” said Dowd, who grew up in Elmhurst and now lives in Bayside. “Diocesan officials have been beyond vicious. They’re savage, savage people.”
Frank DeRosa, spokesperson for the diocese, said Tuesday afternoon that he was unaware of the lawsuit until he was alerted to Dowd’s press conference.
“The Diocese of Brooklyn has not been served with the summons and complaint,” DeRosa said. “We cannot comment on it, not having seen and reviewed it.”
Dowd called diocesan lawyers last week, but they never returned his calls. “I’d love them to pick up the phone and call me.”
DeRosa said the diocese has been following its policy of cooperating with civil authorities and has turned over complaints of abuse to the district attorneys in Brooklyn and Queens. It is still diocesan policy to meet with victims, address their concerns and offer counseling.
Monsignor Otto Garcia, the vicar general of the diocese, a position of authority, is alleged in the suit to have knowingly concealed acts of abuse by priests who were then reassigned to other parishes within and outside the diocese.
Bishop Thomas Daily, who became administrator of the diocese in 1990, is accused of concealing acts of sexual abuse of children by priests and preventing parishioners, plaintiffs and the general public from finding out about the alleged molestation.
Daily was preceded as head of the diocese by Bishop Francis Mugavero from 1968 to 1990 and Bishop Bryan McEntegart from 1957 to 1968. Dowd charges that the abusing priests continued to prey on children for decades because Bishops McEntegart and Mugavero suppressed knowledge of the crimes.
Accusations of abuse include every kind of sexual act from touching and kissing to rape and sodomy. One plaintiff also charges his former parish priest with physical abuse and bullying.
Defendants named in the complaint include Father Romano Ferraro, who is accused of molesting two brothers when he had contact with St. Joseph Parish in Astoria from about 1974 to 1978.
The complaint charges that he was designated as being on sick leave and released from diocesan assignment several times within a decade. For a time, he was in residence at St. Aloysius Parish in Ridgewood.
Father George Stack allegedly abused a 15-year-old boy while at a summer home used by the priest in the late 1970s. At the time, the victim was reportedly a parishioner of Resurrection Ascension Church in Rego Park and attended Cathedral Preparatory High School in Elmhurst.
The complaint states Father Stack was assigned twice to Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Floral Park.
According to the complaint, in the 1960s an 11-year-old boy was molested by Father Thomas O’Rourke while attending Corpus Christi School in Woodside. He also served at American Martyrs in Bayside and was assigned to Mary Louis Academy, a girls’ high school, in Jamaica Estates.
Brother John McLoughlin is accused of performing a sex act with a 16-year-old student of Cathedral Preparatory High School when he was assigned there in the early 1970s. The act allegedly took place at the defendant’s summer home.
Father Edward Maurer is accused of molesting a young boy while assigned to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills. The diocese is charged in the complaint with transferring him from parish to parish to prevent discovery of his alleged crimes.
According to the complaint, Father Maurer also served at St. Stanislaus Costa Church and St. Joseph’s in Long Island City, where he remained until recently.
In 1975, St. Anastasia Parish in Douglaston was allegedly the place where Father Ronald Petroski engaged in oral and anal sex with a 15-year-old student.
Father Joseph Byrns is accused of abusing Robert and Timothy Lambert when they were teenagers at St. Anastasia Church. Timothy later became a priest and recently made his accusations public.
Father Vincent Zollo is accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy while he was assigned to Our Lady of Grace Parish in the early 1980s.
The complaint alleges that Father Francis Manzo was assigned to Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Ozone Park after being accused of sexually abusing a boy at a Brooklyn parish.
Dowd expects the number of plaintiffs and defendants in the suit, which was filed in the state Supreme Court, to grow.
The plaintiffs are asking for $100 million each for damages, pain and suffering and punitive damages.
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