Jury finds N.Y. diocese was negligent in sex abuse case
It awards $11.4m to two victims of rape, sodomy
MINEOLA, N.Y. -- A jury found the nation's sixth-largest Roman Catholic diocese and a church parish negligent yesterday in a case involving a youth minister who repeatedly raped and sodomized teenagers in his care.
The jury awarded two victims a combined $11.4 million in damages in one of the rare civil cases to go to trial following the nationwide sex abuse scandal that erupted five years ago.
The jury found that the Diocese of Rockville Centre, one of its churches, and a pastor were also negligent in the hiring and retention of the youth minister.
The plaintiffs' lawyer , Michael Dowd, said the decision -- announced in a hushed courtroom -- sends a powerful message to the Catholic Church.
"The church can no longer be reckless in the safety of children," Dowd said.
The defense said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.
The trial included graphic testimony by a female victim who told the jury that former youth minister Matthew Maiello seduced her and had sex with her on church property -- including pews and the elementary school principal's office, as well as at their homes.
The jury awarded the female victim about $5.5 million in damages, and a male victim about $5.9 million. After the trial, the woman hailed the verdict as a vindication for her and other abuse victims.
"I'd just like to say that the reason for seeking justice in a civil trial was to ensure that the truth finally came out and that this might prevent the abuse from happening to children everywhere," she said.
The Associated Press generally does not name victims of sexual abuse.
Maiello pleaded guilty to third-degree rape and sodomy in 2003 and served more than two years in prison, admitting he abused four children.
But since Maiello did not contest any of the allegations, the focus of the monthlong trial became St. Raphael's Church in East Meadow, its pastor, the Rev. Thomas Haggerty, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
The victims said that starting when they were 15, they were repeatedly molested by Maiello, and that church officials failed to act when confronted by reports that the youth minister was acting inappropriately.
The victims, now 23, said the abuse lasted three years, from 1999 to 2002. The woman testified that Maiello had sex with her in a basement office in the church convent and cajoled her into having sex with the boy in the youth ministry.
Before long, Maiello was engaging in three-way sex with the teenagers, and videotaping other encounters.
"He would always tell me it was God's plan for us to be together," said the woman. "He controlled all of my thoughts -- he manipulated me."
Dowd said Haggerty failed to check on Maiello's educational background and other qualifications for the $20,000-a-year youth ministry position.
"Who in God's name would let this person work with kids?" Dowd asked.