Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Two more former Damien students file lawsuit alleging sexual abuse
by Larry Geller
A lawsuit was filed in Circuit Court in Honolulu on behalf of two former Damien Memorial School students who allege that they were abused by a priest at the school. Among the plaintiffs are Fr. Gerald Funcheon, the accused priest, and Damien Memorial School, the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii, and the Congregation of Christian Brothers of Hawaii.
The two new plaintiffs bring the total filing suit in Hawaii so far to ten under a new state law that opens a window of opportunity for civil suits if filed before April, 2014. Without the law, the statute of limitations would have run out, making a lawsuit impossible. Several states have laws similar to Hawaii’s, according to attorney Jeff Anderson.
[Right to left: Attorney Jeff Anderson, Kory Oakland (“John Roe 1”), Susie Oakland, Gary Oakland (parents), attorney Mark Gallagher, and Joelle Casteix, Western Regional Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, holding picture of Kory Oakland as a student in Hawaii]
Although plaintiffs have identified themselves only as John Roes 1 through 10, Kory Oakland decided to appear publicly to raise awareness. Another unusual aspect of this particular case is that accused priest, Fr. Gerald Funcheon, has apparently admitted in a videotaped statement that he had sexual contact with up to 18 boys. A redacted video was shown at today’s press conference in Honolulu.
Portions of the video were quite stunning.
Q. Do you think you remember the numbers of kids, those are people, youth under the age of 18, with whom you engaged in some sexual conduct or contact?
A. Over my lifetime?
Q. While a priest.
A. Yeah, I would say a dozen.
Q. There are some reports where it's far in excess of that by your own report. Do you think you might be underestimating that number?
A. Wow, I I couldn't count 'em up. I'll go I don't know. I'll go to 18. I - - I don't I can't give you a number on this. Okay?
Anderson also alleges that Funcheon was protected by his superiors—he was quietly relocated away from Hawaii to escape confrontation with the parents.
A map was displayed with Funcheon’s known assignments. At many of the locations he served also as a military chaplain.
The priest was allegedly moved serially from one location to a new, unsuspecting location. He remains a priest at present but is inactive.
The lawsuit was filed by Hawaii attorney Mark Gallagher and supported by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Joelle Casteix, SNAP’s Western Regional Director, is herself a survivor and brought a picture of herself as a student to the news conference.
One purpose of the press event was to bring publicity to Hawaii’s law so that others might be encouraged to take advantage. Anderson has created an informational website, www.abusedinhawaii.com.
The website includes a list of publicly accused priests in Hawaii.
Because these suits are civil suits, no one will end up behind bars. The criminal statute of limitations has long run out, according to Anderson. [I recalled that under some circumstances, if an accused has fled a state (?), criminal prosecution can still be pursued. Mr. Anderson replied that under some circumstances, that might be possible.]
- Sexual harassment case filed against Damien Memorial School under Hawaii’s new open-window law (11/9/2012)
- Protest demands Honolulu bishop remove accused priest (3/7/2013)
[Also in the spirit of providing information to those who may want to know how these suits are constructed, I have posted this one here for downloading. A copy of the earlier suit is included in the first “related” article above.]
Update: If you are a subscriber to the Star-Advertiser, please check out Rob Perez’ excellent article beginning on page B1, Priest admits sex acts with boys (Star-Advertiser, 3/21/2013). It’s a well-crafted story and an example of why we still need paid, experienced journalists (and newspapers!).
The on-line version of the story includes a video clip from the HawaiiNewsNow coverage, which is also available (without a subscription) here. The video includes clips from Funcheon’s statement.
One part of the article deserves further comment, I think:
In a statement Wednesday, Bishop Larry Silva called Funcheon's testimony "very disturbing and sad," adding, "I pray that the publication of this video will not re-traumatize victims, who are trying to find healing for the criminal actions that were done to them. The Diocese of Honolulu continues to be committed to active programs of screening and education, so that no minor will be in danger of abuse from a clergyman or Church worker."
Silva urged anyone who has been abused to contact the diocese victim assistance coordinator, Edwina Reyes, at 524-4673 "so that we can accompany them in the healing process."
Neither the TV station nor this blog have posted the entire video. But Silva’s statement is, if I may say so, part of the problem. Religious authorities, as demonstrated in the lawsuits brought in Honolulu and elsewhere, have long attempted to cover up the crimes committed against children. Had these crimes been brought to civil authorities at the time they were discovered, perhaps justice would have been done and further abuses reduced.
Instead, religious authorities, far from facilitating healing, were accessories to the crimes. Fancheon, for example, was silently moved from location to location and continued to be granted access to children, according to allegations in the lawsuit. Several religious organizations are named in the Honolulu civil lawsuits.
So while healing is good, seeing an attorney is also good if the incidents took place in the past, and calling police might be better if the abuse is taking place in the present.
The extent of the coverup was the subject of the HBO documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa (2012), which appears to still be available for viewing on-line (google for it).