A Maui man is suing the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii and the religious order that runs Damien Memorial School on Oahu, under a new state law providing a two-year window for child sexual abuse victims to file civil actions, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred in Hawaii.
The man, referred to as John Roe No. 5 to protect his privacy, was 14 or 15 years old, after entering Damien as a freshman in 1986, when the sexual abuse began, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in 1st Circuit Court on Oahu.
The lawsuit identifies his abuser as Brother John Paul Medvit, who was a teacher at Damien during periods in the 1980s and 1990s. He died in August.
The lawsuit alleges negligence and fraud by the Congregation of Christian Brothers of Hawaii and the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii. School and church officials didn’t tell students or parents “that they had or should have had information that Medvit had a pattern of grooming and molesting boys,” according to the lawsuit.
“We’re aware of the lawsuit, but can’t comment,” Patrick Downes, spokesman for the Honolulu Diocese of the Catholic Church, said Friday.
The lawsuit says Medvit’s actions against John Roe No. 5 would have constituted a criminal offense. The boy was isolated on the school campus during lunch hours “under the guise of religious education and spiritual training” when Medvit would tell the boy “to read from his religious instruction book while he performed various acts of sexual abuse” on the boy, according to the lawsuit. The acts included caressing, rubbing, groping and hugging the student, the lawsuit says, and Medvit threatened to fail the student if he didn’t comply.
When the student resisted, Medvit attacked and tried to restrain the student and forced further abuse on him, according to the lawsuit.
The student reported the abuse to both Damien and diocese officials and Medvit was temporarily removed from the school, the lawsuit says. But Medvit was later returned to the school and attacked the student with a leather and metal weapon in retaliation, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed by Oahu attorney Mark Gallagher, seeks general, special and punitive damages.
At least six lawsuits have been filed in Hawaii under the law temporarily lifting the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to file civil actions, according to attorneys who were on Maui for a seminar Monday on Civil Justice for Victims of Crime in Hawaii.
Four lawsuits have been brought by former Damien students, said Joelle Casteix, western regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She said the organization “is urging all victims at Damien and other schools, churches, institutions, homes or elsewhere in Hawaii to come forward and get help while they have civil rights under the state’s new ‘window’ legislation.”
The law enacted in April expires April 24, 2014.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com
© The Maui News