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Irish priest being sued for alleged rape in USA

The civil suit outlines allegations dating from 1970 that the priest raped teenage girl days after her father died.

File photo
File photo
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

A CALIFORNIAN WOMAN is to sue an Irish priest who allegedly raped her in 1970 when she was 16 years old, US court documents show.

The priest, who is believed to be about 80 years old and living in Dublin, was visiting the diocese of Fresno when the alleged incident occurred.

The civil complaint, filed at the Superior Court of the State of California in Fresno County on 6 May, outlines the plaintiff’s claims that she was molested and digitally raped by the member of the Holy Ghost Fathers (now Spiritans) shortly after the sudden death of her father.

According to the woman’s lawyers, the defendant became a close friend of the family while he was assigned to the local St Anthony of Padua Church. He regularly swam with the children in their swimming pool and often played golf with the father.

The complaint contends that a total of 25 un-named defendants – including other people within the Catholic Church in Ireland and the US – “knew or should have known” that the priest may sexually assault minors “yet did nothing to prevent this from happening”.

The plaintiff believes that all 25 defendants conspired to “facilitate, ratify or authorise” the alleged unlawful conduct. She claims that she has suffered severe emotional distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, as a direct result of the alleged rape.

Charisma and a brogue

The civil action details the plaintiff’s Catholic faith and the importance of the Church to her family. The documents state that she was taught that priests were to be revered and trusted, and that she must be “wholly obedient”.

The priest is described as “very striking and charismatic” with a strong Irish brogue. He had been working in Nigeria was was “between assignments” in the summer of 1970.

Court documents recount details of the alleged incident, as recalled by the plaintiff. Her father died on 8 July and in the subsequent weeks, the priest continued to “hang around” the family home.

On one occasions when [the defendant and plaintiff] happened to be alone in the kitchen. [She] was still in deep emotional grief about her father. Suddenly, [the defendant] pushed her up against the kitchen cabinet, started kissing her, put his hand down her pants and digitally raped her.

She broke away and hid in a closet, according to the files. She also has a “vague memory” of another incident where the defendant was “on top of her”.

Attorneys for the plaintiff say she has “virtually no memory of the details of that evening or anything else for the remainder of 1970″. She was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2009/2010.

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The actions for damages cited in the complaint are sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. A jury trial has been requested.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the chancellor of the Diocese of Fresno confirmed that a “third-party, unsubstantiated complaint” against a priest on a short-term visit in 1970 had been received.

The Diocese of Fresno immediately engaged response procedures, which includes: a request that the third party encourage the complainant to come forward so that the diocese may be directly present to the concern by offering outreach, opening a diocesan investigation, notifying any other (arch)diocese or religious order of which the accused priest is currently residing, and following mandated reporting law if applicable. Response procedures can evolve upon the receipt of more detailed information.

It added that a further response could evolve once further detail is received.

The Spiritans are aware of the law suit filed against a named member of the congregation but told TheJournal.ie it could not comment on specific claims or legal proceedings.

After reading a TIME Magazine article about abuse by Catholic church priests in Boston in 2003, the plaintiff reported the alleged sexual assault to a parish deacon and parish priest in her local diocese. A separate suit was filed for injuries suffered as a result of the way she was treated after she reported the abuse.

Comments have been disabled as court proceedings have started.

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