Ex-Kalihi priest, diocese named in sex-abuse lawsuit
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
Two Hawaii men are suing a Catholic priest for allegedly sexually molesting them during the mid-to-late-1980s while the two were part of an altar boy program at a church in Kalihi.
The lawsuit was filed in Circuit Court yesterday by Honolulu attorneys Michael Green and David Gierlach on behalf of Darick Agasiva and Fa'amoana Purcell who claim priest Roberto De Otero sexually molested them in the rectory at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii.
The Catholic Church in Hawaii, otherwise known as the Catholic Diocese, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The suit is the first against the church here alleging sexual misconduct since the national controversy erupted this year over priests accused of molesting boys and the church's handling of those cases.
Diocese spokesman Pat-rick Downes yesterday said church officials had not yet seen the lawsuit. But he said De Otero was one of four priests Hawaii Bishop Francis DiLorenzo removed from public ministry after arriving here in 1993, following allegations of sexual misconduct. Three of the four priests admitted to the misconduct and De Otero was one of the three, Downes said.
De Otero could not be reached for comment. Downes said church officials believe De Otero is living in California.
He said De Otero was accused of sexual misconduct while serving as a Navy chaplin but that there is no record of allegations being made against De Otero during the time he served as a priest at the Kalihi Church until now.
In addition, allegations against "three or four more" members of the clergy in Hawai'i have been lodged in recent weeks, in the wake of widespread media coverage of sexual misconduct allegations made earlier this year against a Boston priest.
In the lawsuit that was filed here yesterday, Agasiva contends he was first molested by De Otero around 1985 or 1986 after the priest coaxed him into going to the church rectory following a funeral. After that, De Otero arranged for Agasiva and other youngsters to sleep at the rectory and had sexual contact with Agasiva for at least two years, according to the lawsuit.
Purcell claims that he was 11 or 12 years old when De Otero invited him and another altar boy to dinner, and that De Otero dropped the other boy off at home before taking Purcell back to his bedroom at the rectory and molested him.
Gierlach and Green said Purcell and Agasiva "repressed the memories" of what would have been "terrifying, traumatic experiences" at the time. The lawsuit contends that the two men began to recall details of their alleged molestation directly as a result of media coverage of allegations made around the country against other priests.
Gierlach said he understands that some people may be skeptical that Agasiva and Purcell are coming forward only now with claims of being molested years ago and may theorize the two men are merely trying to profit from a situation currently in the national media.
But Gierlach said the two men are not seeking to make a fortune for themselves.
"Their objective is to put a light on this situation and to help stop it," Gierlach said.
Hawai'i law does not allow the amount of damages being sought to be included in the lawsuit, Gierlach said, but requires the amount to be determined at trial.
Downes said De Otero arrived in Hawai'i from Portland, Ore., in the early 1980s and joined the Hawai'i diocese in 1984. He requested a personal leave of absence in 1987 for reasons that are unknown at this point, Downes said, and became a Navy chaplin in 1989.
Downes said De Otero served as a chaplin until 1993.
"He was accused of sexual misconduct while in the Navy, and the church here found out about it and that is what led to his being ordered to stop actively practicing his ministry," Downes said.
He said De Otero is "still actively attached" to the Hawaii Diocese and cannot transfer to another diocese without DiLorenzo's approval.
The new allegations against the three or four other members of the clergy all involve "old cases that happened 20 to 30 years ago" and have been or will be turned over to the church's standing committee on sexual misconduct to examine and to make a recommendation to the bishop, Downes said.
If the allegations were current, they would be turned over to police to investigate, Downes said.
Advertiser reporter Curtis Lum contributed to this report.
Reach David Waite at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8030.