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Editor’s Note: Civil Beat generally does not use anonymous sources, as noted in our long-standing policy. We’re making an exception for this and other stories about lawsuits filed by child sexual assault victims because we believe it is important to hear the victim’s perspective, and the fact that court records, including a settlement with the Catholic Church, do not reveal their identities.
The Hawaii deadline for victims of child sex abuse to sue was Sunday. In the four years leading up to the deadline, about 150 people filed legal complaints saying they were sexually molested as children. Most victims accused Catholic priests of being their abusers.
But not all were priests. Teachers and other professionals also have been named in the lawsuits. Twenty-six plaintiffs say the now-deceased Kamehameha Schools psychiatrist Robert McCormick Browne drugged and sexually molested them as children when the school sent them to Browne for therapy.
Hawaii lawmakers made it possible for sexual abuse victims to seek justice by extending the deadline for civil suits in 2012 and again in 2014 until the April 24 cutoff.
Most of the alleged incidents happened between the early 1950s and late 1980s.
Attorney Randall Rosenberg, who has filed suits for 56 claimants, says: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of others out there in Hawaii who have been abused. And now with the deadline passed we are unable to help them.”
Rosenberg and other attorneys say they have learned a lot since they began listening to clients recount their betrayal by adults they trusted.
Rosenberg says what surprised him is how widespread child sex abuse is — not just in the Catholic Church but also at other places charged with protecting children in their care.
“It happens at schools, doctors’ offices, in Boy Scout troops, family homes, karate dojos, in churches, with foster parents — anywhere an adult is left alone with a child. We have to do more to stop it,” he says.
Rosenberg has reached mediated settlements in 39 of the legal complaints he has filed — 23 with the Honolulu Diocese and 16 with other institutions, including the Mormon Church and the Salvation Army.
But for many of the victims, even those who have received large financial settlements, the pain lingers.
One of them says he still feels remorse and guilt about not rescuing a former classmate at St. Stephen Diocesan Seminary in Kaneohe, who he says was ushered into the bedroom of now-deceased priest William Queenan each night to be sodomized. In a phone conversation for this column, he started crying when he talked about it.
“It was so sad watching him come out of the room in the morning. I wish I had stuck up for him and I still wonder what became of him. As runty, bullied and timid as I was then, he was even more so. He was gentle and creative and had great skills as a sketch artist,” says MG, as he is identified in his lawsuit.
MG says he, too, was molested by Father Queenan. Another former seminary student has also sued, saying Queenan molested him when he was 14.
Most of the plaintiffs have sued anonymously as John or Jane Doe or using their initials to maintain their privacy.
MG was sexually abused before he enrolled at St. Stephen. When he was a 12-year-old altar boy at Good Shepherd Church in Honomu on Hawaii Island he says a drunken Maryknoll priest named Francis Daubert got him alone in a back room of the church where he tied him up, tortured and sodomized him for five hours before he could escape.
In the last two weeks before the deadline to sue, attorney Rosenberg says he took on 15 new cases and Kailua attorney Mark Gallagher accepted 12 new clients.
Rosenberg and Gallagher have filed the most child sex abuse complaints in the past four years, since the time frame to file suit was expanded.
Gallagher sued on behalf of 61 clients. Fifty-two of his cases have been against the Diocese of Honolulu. So far, he has reached mediated settlements for 27 clients.
Gallagher, who was raised as a Catholic, says what surprised him was the support of the Catholic community, even by hard core church-goers, as he filed more and more lawsuits.
“Most of them have been solidly in the camp of the survivors. They want the right thing to be done,” he says. “A lot of them had known this was going on. They knew something wasn’t right. I was amazed by their support although I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because the church teaches people to do the right thing and the right thing is to support the children.”
Rosenberg says the deadline has been helpful because it spurred more victims to come forward, but says he wishes it could have been extended to help other victims still wavering about suing.
He says he had a client who changed his mind five times before he decided to go forward.
One troubling fact that emerged as more and more plaintiffs sued is that churches and schools rarely, if ever, informed the police after they found out about the sexual assaults. Gallagher says institutions and individuals have a duty to inform the police immediately when there are claims of sexual abuse made by children.
“It is essential because what we are talking about here is a crime. Sex assault is a crime. It is immoral for institutions to try to protect themselves and the perpetrators,” Gallagher says.
Laurie LaGrange, a public relations specialist with the Diocese of Honolulu, says, “After the conference of Catholic bishops in 1992, it became mandatory to report incidents of sex assault immediately to the police.”
But LaGrange was unable to provide numbers of how many cases the diocese had ever reported to the Honolulu Police Department.
Rosenberg says that in a September 2015 deposition, taken in the mediated settlement cases, Vicar General Gary Secor of the Honolulu Diocese claimed it was church policy to report child sex abuse to law enforcement but Secor could not recall a single instance when church personnel actually had done so.
Also chilling to learn from the lawsuits is that some of the a victims were later abused by psychologists or priests they went to for help after suffering sexual attacks.
A plaintiff known as MC says that after his adoptive father physically and sexually abused him when he was 13, he was sent by state Child Protective Services to psychologist Rob Wetzel for counseling and treatment.
The suit claims Wetzel immediately began “grooming him to accept sexual abuse” and that by the time the victim turned 17, Wetzel allegedly began violating him on a regular basis. “Such abuse included kissing, fondling, oral sex and sodomy,” according to the court filing.
The suit says Wetzel used his position and practice to prey upon teenaged boys.
Wetzel was not immediately available to comment. I called his office but his receptionist told me he wasn’t there. When I told her it was about a lawsuit filed against him she said she would have him call me. He hadn’t called as of late Monday.
In another twist, Father James Jackson, a Maryknoll priest accused of sexually preying on seven boys, was sent to Kuakini Hospital by the church to be “cured” by psychiatrist Dr. Robert McCormick Browne — the same Dr. Browne who was later accused by 26 plaintiffs of being a pedophile who drugged and masturbated them when they were children.
In 1991, Browne shot himself in the head after one of his young victims threatened to expose him.
Joseph Ferrario, who later became the Bishop of Hawaii, was accused in lawsuits of sexually attacking two children — Mark Pinkosh and David Figueroa — who came to him for help after they said they were raped by Father Joseph Henry of St. Anthony Church in Kailua. Ferrario died in 2003.
Henry is the priest who has been accused by the most alleged victims. More than 20 men have named Henry as their childhood attacker.
Interestingly in one of the complaints against Ferrario, Father Thomas Doyle submitted a report saying that before Ferrario became Honolulu bishop, the Vatican knew he was alleged to be a pedophile.
“The Vatican was informed that there were serious allegations against Ferrario, not only of homosexual behavior in gay bars with age-appropriate men but also with under-aged boys. What the officials in the Vatican thought about these allegations is not known. However they chose to ignore the warnings and appointed Ferrario as bishop,” says Doyle.
At the time, Doyle was the secretary canonist at the Vatican Embassy and in charge of managing the process in which candidates for bishop were vetted.
Vicar General Gary Secor in an emailed statement says, “We are not privy to what the Vatican knew or didn’t know before or when Father Joseph Ferrario was appointed Bishop of Honolulu.”
Ferrario has been accused by six of the plaintiffs of being a pedophile. He maintained his innocence until his death. And without the lawsuits, he probably would have remained for eternity a respected public figure.
“The church successfully waged a public relations campaign to destroy David Figueroa (Ferrario’s first public accuser) and preserve Ferrario,”Gallagher says.
Some of the new cases filed before the deadline are horrific in their accusations.
One of Rosenberg’s recent suits names George DeCosta, a former Hawaii Island priest. The victim accuses DeCosta of anally raping him in 1991, when he was a 5-year-old preschool student at Hale O Kamalii School in Hilo.
The school was on the grounds of Malia Puka O Ka Lani Church where DeCosta was the parish priest.
DeCosta allegedly was asked to look after the little boy when he disturbed the other children during nap time but instead DeCosta allegedly took him into a room in a church building and abused him.
The suit says after DeCosta forced the plaintiff to the ground to rape him, “the crying plaintiff said he was going to tell his parents. DeCosta slapped the plaintiff in the back of the head and said if he did, his parents would be killed.”
The plaintiff is a 29-year-old man now living in Portland, Oregon.
DeCosta was accused by others of sexually abusing them in the 1960s when he was working at Damien Memorial High School in Kalihi as a religion teacher.
The Honolulu Diocese says in April 2009 Bishop Larry Silva suspended Father DeCosta’s right to celebrate Mass and the sacraments, and later at the Bishop’s request, the Vatican ordered DeCosta permanently removed from public ministry and from any contact with minors.
Nine plaintiffs have accused DeCosta of being a pedophile yet his name will never appear on the Hawaii sex offender registry because the church has settled the civil complaints against him. He has never been convicted of a crime.
DeCosta has maintained his innocence.
Hula fanciers know DeCosta as the chaplain of the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, where he continued giving the official opening prayer up until 2011, even after he had been told by the bishop he could no longer officially act as a priest.
The Diocese of Honolulu is expected to have to pay more than $20 million for the mediated settlements, most of it out of its own pocket because the Diocese is in litigation with its insurance company which has refused to pay for the settlements.
Vicar General Secor says the Diocese has had to sell some real estate and has also used credit secured by mortgages to help pay for the settlements. He says no parish assets have been sold or mortgaged.
He says the outlay of cash has also forced the indefinite postponement of diocesan projects including the remodeling the Kamiano Center, a gathering place for meetings next to Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. He says staffing is frozen and new programs have been halted.
In the end, what difference did the lawsuits make?
Attorney Gallagher says a benefit is that the balance has shifted from institutions covering up sexual abuse to protect predators and reputation of the church and other institutions to instead making the protection of children paramount.
“I think it has done a lot of good,” says Gallagher.
But at the end of the day, the story is still sad. Many abuse survivors will spend the rest of their lives battling alcohol and drug addiction and an inability to form adult relationships.
“They will never get to live their lives they way they were supposed to,” says Rosenberg.
Pedophilia taints not only the victims but everyone else in its wake.
Families are still racked with guilt, continually ruminating about what they should have done to protect their children from harm.
Many upstanding and honorable priests are viewed with suspicion today even though their lives have been blameless.
And there are the people still out there who knew the abuse was happening and yet to this day remain silent. They know who they are and they know their silence made it possible for the pedophiles to keep molesting and raping children. That is their shame.