Additional suits filed alleging sexual abuse by Staten Island priest
Three more lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by former priest, Father Arthur Fernando, have been filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, The Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, Our Lady Help of Christians School, and the Catholic School Region of Staten Island are defendants in the suits.
Plaintiffs Joseph Norman, Alcy McDonough and Mari Huetter allege the defendants failed to report Fernando despite receiving multiple complaints of him sexually abusing children. Instead, the suits allege, the defendants transferred Fernando to California, providing him the opportunity to abuse more children. Plaintiff Joseph Norman’s brother, John, previously filed a suit against the same institutional defendants alleging Father Fernando and Monsignor Jerimiah Brennan abused him.
The suits, filed July 29, 2021, assert claims of negligence, negligent supervision, failure to warn, negligent hiring and retention, fraud, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Motley Rice attorney Daniel Lapinski and Nye Stirling Hale & Miller LLP lawyer Benjamin Sweet (PA) represent the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs were able to file the suits under the provisions of New York’s Child Victims Act. Enacted in August of 2019, New York’s Child Victims Act opened up a one-time-only limited period during which victims of child sexual abuse may file civil claims against their alleged abusers and institutions that enabled the abuse, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. The window on filing claims closes on Aug. 14, 2021. Under the Act, a child sexual abuse victim may file a civil case regardless of: their current age or how long ago the abuse occurred. Suits may be filed under the Act even if it’s too late to file under the old statute of limitations, a victim’s prior case was dismissed because they waited too long to file, or the victim never filed a Notice of Claim. Filing is allowed under the Act whether the victim is suing their abuser or organizations (such as a school, employer, or place of worship) or people who should have acted to stop or prevent the abuse.
Plaintiffs, all of whom were raised Catholic, attended church every weekend as well as daily mass at school during their childhoods. Having been taught that priests were the voice of God, Plaintiffs all held Fernando in high regard. John and Joseph Norman, both of whom served as altar boys, were often assigned to serve masses over which Father Fernando presided, and both allege instances of sexual abuse were often connected to their service as altar boys.
The suits allege Fernando gained the trust of Plaintiffs and numerous other children by portraying himself as their friend, compared to other priests and nuns who the children viewed as stern. Fernando frequently hosted tea parties for the children in the school’s rectory and presented slideshow presentations about his life in his native Sri Lanka. It was under the guise of giving her tea that Fernando first abused Plaintiff McDonough, placing his hands on her shoulders before kissing and fondling the child, according to the suit. The complaint alleges that Fernando abused Plaintiff Huetter in a similar fashion following a presentation about Sri Lanka.
The Plaintiffs allege the New York school and church received at least two complaints from families alleging Fernando abused their children but that both institutions failed to report the complaints to law enforcement or any other outside organization. The suits also allege families reported the abuse to Monsignor Brennan and that their complaints were covered up in part because Brennan also allegedly abused children.
“Each of these people continues to suffer significant trauma given the horrors they recall experiencing as children and that were ignored by adults they were not only taught to trust, but to view in incredibly high regard,” said Motley Rice member attorney Daniel Lapinski, who represents the plaintiffs. “These lawsuits seek to hold these institutions accountable for the unconscionable shortcomings alleged in this case.”
Fernando is not a defendant in the suit; his status as a priest, his whereabouts, and his current access to children are unknown.
The cases filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York County of New York are:
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Motley Rice is one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ litigation firms. With a tradition of representing those whose rights have been violated, Motley Rice attorneys gained recognition for their pioneering asbestos lawsuits, their work with the State Attorneys General in the landmark litigation against Big Tobacco, and their representation of 9/11 families in the ongoing lawsuit against terrorist financiers. The firm continues to handle complex litigation in numerous areas, including securities fraud; antitrust; consumer protection; mesothelioma; environmental contamination; prescription and over-the-counter drugs; other medical devices; human rights; aviation disasters; and wrongful death. Motley Rice is headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and has additional offices in Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; New Jersey; New York; Pennsylvania; Missouri; Rhode Island; and West Virginia. For more information, contact Motley Rice attorney Daniel R. Lapinski (NJ, NY, PA) at 1.800.768.4026 or visit www.motleyrice.com. Motley Rice LLC, a South Carolina Limited Liability Company, is engaged in the New Jersey practice of law through Motley Rice New Jersey LLC. Esther Berezofsky is the attorney responsible for New Jersey practice. Connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.