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Irish Voice News
Irish American Attorney Wins Huge Case
May 24, 2007
By Cahir O’Doherty
LAST week a jury found that the nation’s sixth-largest Roman Catholic diocese, Rockville Centre in Long Island, was negligent in a case involving Matthew Maiello, a youth minister who repeatedly raped and sodomized teenagers who were entrusted to his care over several years.
“I am absolutely stunned by the arrogance of the bishop and the diocese,” said well-known New York based Irish American civil rights attorney Michael Dowd, in a hard hitting interview with the Irish Voice. “Even as late as yesterday they refused to admit any responsibility at all for what happened.”
Dowd, the Irish American prosecutor in the successful $11.45 million suit against former youth minister Maiello, sounds personally shaken by the experience. “What I find incomprehensible is how you can be so reckless in protecting children,” he said, referring to Father Thomas Haggerty, the pastor of St. Raphael’s Church in East Meadow where the abuse occurred.
“On Sunday the bishop had a letter read at the Masses urging support for the pastor who hired Maiello after Haggerty was warned about him. To me it speaks of an arrogance that refuses to accept responsibility for kids.”
Dowd claimed that Haggerty had called another parish for a professional reference concerning Maiello, who had applied for the position as youth minister at his own parish. When the source — who was actually related to Maiello — refrained from giving him a positive assessment Haggerty should have refused to hire him, Dowd said.
“Haggerty didn’t ask why. He just hung up the phone. You have to be living on a different planet to not ask why, you should refuse to hire him. If his service had been unsatisfactory in another youth ministry where he was working with kids, why would you hire him for a new one?”
Graphic testimony from a female victim described how the former youth minister cajoled her into having sex in a variety of locations on church property. Maiello eventually persuaded her to have sex with another boy also under his supervision in the youth ministry.
Maiello, who now lives in Stamford, Connecticut pleaded guilty to third-degree rape and sodomy in 2003, admitting that he abused four children. He served more than two years in prison and was released on March 29, 2005.
Says Dowd, “When the original allegations of sexual abuse were made the church did nothing to reach out to the kids making them. The church officials failed to act when they were confronted by reports that the minister was acting inappropriately. And after this jury’s verdict they still refuse to accept responsibility.
“I could perhaps take it better if it was coming from an arms manufacturer, but this is the Catholic Church. A bishop stands in the place of Christ.”
Asked why they chose to go to court rather than make reparations, Dowd answers candidly, “I think they gambled on winning. It’s pretty depressing. You’d think that after a finding of recklessness they’d say, ‘You know we made mistakes, people were hurt as a result of it, but lets move on and try to prevent those mistakes in the future.’
“But how do you correct things or move ahead if in your view you did nothing wrong? I’ve seen nothing to make me think they are any more sensitive today than they were when this began.”
Dowd continued, “To me the church isn’t about buildings, it’s about people. So for the bishop to support a pastor who in very clear terms was indifferent to the welfare of children because he ignored the warnings he received about the dangers that Maiello represented is just appalling.”
Both of the victims in the recent trial spoke about losing their faith in God. They spoke of the nightmares, panic attacks and flashbacks they experienced; the girl had been abused over 400 times, the boy over 100 times. After the verdict was read the young man who had been abused suffered an anxiety attack and collapsed.
Says Dowd, “The defense and the church argued that neither of these young people had been hurt by their experiences in their closing argument. You hope for change and then you hear what’s being read from the pulpit on Sunday morning.”
The jury awarded the female victim about $5.5 million in damages and a second, male victim about $5.9 million. The U.S. Conference of Bishops estimates that abuse-related costs from lawsuits have exceeded $1.5 billion in the wake of the scandals.
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