2 Raped by New York Minister Are Awarded $11.45 Million
By BRUCE LAMBERT - The New York Times
May 19, 2007
GARDEN CITY, N.Y., May 18 In one of the largest judgments
in a child sexual abuse suit against the Roman Catholic Church,
a Long Island jury on Friday awarded a total of $11.45 million in
damages to a young man and woman who were repeatedly raped by a
youth minister as teenagers starting in the late 1990s.
The jury deliberated for seven days before finding that the Diocese
of Rockville Centre, the sixth-largest in the United States; a church
in East Meadow; and its pastor were negligent by hiring and retaining
the man who abused the plaintiffs over a period of three years.
After the verdict, the woman tearfully embraced her mother, then
held an impromptu news conference in a hallway at State Supreme
Court in Nassau County. Saying that thousands of children have been
victimized, she added, I am their voice.
The purpose of her suit was to see the truth come out
and to prevent the abuse of children everywhere, she
said. Children cannot protect themselves from sexual predators.
While awaiting his turn to speak, the other victim collapsed in
the arms of a lawyer, and court aides had to revive him with oxygen.
He was just overcome with emotion, said one of his
lawyers, Paul A. Mones.
Later, in a telephone interview, the young man said, It was
extremely difficult for me to relive the experience through the
litigation process. But he urged other victims to come forward
because these kids are going to need therapy and support
you have no idea.
Both the woman, 23, and the man, 22, testified during the three-week
trial that they suffered anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares
and difficulties in their careers and in social and romantic relationships
as a result of being raped and sodomized by the youth minister,
The jurors, four men and two women most of them Catholics
themselves left the courthouse without comment.
A lawyer for the church defendants, Kevin McNiff of the firm Mulholland,
Minion & Roe, said they were reviewing the verdict and their
A diocese spokesman, Sean Dolan, said it was too early to
say if it would appeal.
We humbly accept the decision of the jury, Mr. Dolan
added. We need to try to understand better in terms of the
actual dollar amount what that all means. We want to focus on the
lessons weve learned over the last few years in creating the
safest church environment we can. Were really saddened by
the terrible actions of Matthew Maiello, and I hope the award given
by the jury helps the victims.
The jurys awards approached the $6 million given to each
of two victims in a California case in 1998, according to Jeffrey
Anderson, a lawyer who specializes in sexual abuse cases but was
not involved in the Long Island case.
But the Long Island case was notable for more than the size of
the judgments. Public attention in church cases has often focused
on accused priests rather than on employees other than clergy members,
like Mr. Maiello, now 33, who pleaded guilty in 2003 to raping and
sodomizing four minors, including the two who sued. He served two
years in prison and now lives in Connecticut.
This lawsuit was also the first abuse case against the Catholic
Church in New York State and one of the few in the nation
to go to a jury verdict. Most such suits against the church
are dismissed, often because of the statute of limitations, or are
quietly settled out of court.
You very rarely get a chance to hear from the victims
how these guys operate, how the kids get trapped and how the parents
get fooled almost never, said Mr. Mones, one of the
lawyers. And almost never do you get to hear a pedophile testify
in detail; thats very rare. Mr. Maiello was subpoenaed
to testify at the civil trial.
Convictions in most criminal cases on child sexual abuse, including
Mr. Maiellos, result from plea bargains.
The jury attributed 70 percent of the blame to Mr. Maiello, who
did not contest the suit and has few assets.
But the jury also ruled that the church defendants the Diocese
of Rockville Centre; St. Raphaels Roman Catholic Church in
East Meadow; and its pastor, the Rev. Thomas Haggerty acted
with reckless disregard for the safety of others in the negligent
hiring and retention of Mr. Maiello.
That finding of recklessness means that the church defendants are
responsible to pay the full award if Mr. Maiello does not have the
money for his share, said the victims lead lawyer, Michael
The jury awarded $2.5 million to each victim for injuries and suffering
to date, as well as $250,000 annually to the woman for the next
12 years, and $115,000 annually to the young man for the next 30
years. Her total would be $5.5 million, and his would be $5.95 million.
The diocese, comprising 1.4 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk
Counties, is one of the nations largest and wealthiest. It
was the target of a scathing Suffolk County grand jury report in
2003 that found years of sexual abuse complaints that were ignored
and covered up.
Since then the diocese has imposed new safeguards, including background
checks on employees and volunteers and preventive education for
them and for church members.
The victims testified that Mr. Maiello pressured them into having
sex with each other and him, plying them with marijuana and alcohol
and videotaping them. The abuses started when, as 15-year-old virgins,
they were summoned by him to his basement office. The abuse was
repeated for years: in the school, rectory, convent and sanctuary,
and later in homes, motels, a car, a truck and a boat, they said.
Mr. Maiello said that Gods plan brought them
together, they said. He gave them prized roles in musical productions
but also threatened harm through Mafia connections if they told
their secrets, they said.
Other witnesses said that Father Haggerty hired Mr. Maiello even
though he knew about Mr. Maiellos boundary and
touching issues and that Mr. Maiellos supervisor
at another church had said that he could not give a positive recommendation.
The witnesses also said Father Haggerty had ignored the advice
of the parish business manager against the hiring and did not sufficiently
heed complaints about Mr. Maiellos conduct once he was hired.
The churchs lawyer, Brian R. Davey, argued that Mr. Maiello
was totally at fault, church officials never knew about his crimes
and they should not be blamed when the victims families saw