Report: Vatican knew about sex abuse allegations against late Hawaii bishop

Report: Church leaders knew late Hawaii bishop was accused of sex abuse, appointed him anyway
Published: Apr. 13, 2016 at 10:25 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 14, 2016 at 2:14 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Catholic Church knew late Honolulu Bishop Joseph Anthony Ferrario had been accused of sexual abuse while a priest in Kailua, but appointed him to head the Honolulu diocese anyway, a Catholic priest who was in charge of managing the process in which candidates were vetted for the office of bishop alleges in a new 18-page court report.

The report by Father Thomas Doyle was released Wednesday, in conjunction with three new sex abuse lawsuits filed in Hawaii against the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu and Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.

Doyle claims the Vatican was informed about serious sexual abuse allegations against Ferrario, but chose to ignore them.

The first sexual abuse allegation against Ferrario was made back in 1976, when he was the pastor at Saint Anthony Church in Kailua, according to the report. Since then, Ferrario has been accused of sexually abusing boys in at least five cases between 1969 and 1981, most of them at Saint Anthony Church. All of the alleged incidents happened before he became bishop; he headed the Catholic Church in Hawaii from 1982 to 1993.

Ferrario died in 2003.

According to court documents, the 1976 allegations involved a 12-year-old victim who went to Ferrario to confide in him about an incident of sexual abuse involving another priest three years earlier.

"He recalls that as they spoke Fr. Ferrario was becoming sexually excited," the report said. "It ended up with J.R. being forced by Ferrario to perform oral sex."

Doyle is one of the expert witnesses in the "Joe Roe 2" lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu and Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. He also oversaw the process in which Ferrario was investigated prior to his appointment as bishop.

The report alleges that 13 years prior to the alleged incident at St. Anthony's, a priest sent a letter to superiors expressing concern about Ferrario's behavior with minors as a father.

"Over the years I could not help noting, nor could the others here, that Joe (Ferrario) has been exceedingly thick with individual seminarians and former seminarians," the letter said. "I am concerned that Joe is losing his judgment."

Doyle's report outlines several investigations into accusations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior against Ferarrio prior to his appointment as bishop of Honolulu. It also mentions a letter-writing campaign urging the Holy See not to elevate him.

"They claimed that Bishop Ferrario was active in the gay community and was regularly seen in gay bars in the company of younger men," the report said. "They also claimed that he had been sexually involved with more than one young seminarian from St. Stephen's seminary."

Ferrario reportedly denied all of the allegations.

Doyle's report concluded: "The Holy See had ample evidence in 1981 that Bishop Ferrario had been actively engaged in homosexual actions with both adults and young boys. In spite of this evidence they appointed him bishop of the diocese."

In a statement, the Very Reverend Gary Secor, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, said Honolulu church leaders were "not privy to what the Vatican knew or didn't know when Father Joseph Ferrario was appointed Bishop of Honolulu. We are doing our best to compassionately address those who have filed lawsuits involving Bishop Ferrario and others through mediation, and continue to pray that they find peace and healing."

The allegations against Ferrario were made public on the same day three new lawsuits were filed against the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu and Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. The lawsuits were all filed under pseudonyms: John Roe 45, John Roe 46 and John Roe 47.

Among the alleged perpetrators is Father Joseph Henry, a pastor at St. Anthony Parish in Kailua from 1950 until his death in 1974. He has been named in at least 10 other lawsuits, and is also accused of raping John Roe 2, who later accused Ferrario of sexually abuse as well.

In two of the cases filed Wednesday, Henry is accused of sexually abusing a 7-year-old boy and a 10-year-old boy on multiple occasions.

The third lawsuit names Father Donald Graff, who was a priest at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and at the Cathedral School. He's accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy.

It's been years since the alleged incidents took place, and hile Hawaii criminal statutes of limitations have long expired on the abuse cases reported from the 1950s through the 1980s, the window on civil abuse lawsuits was reopened by the state Legislature from April 2012 through April 2014. Lawmakers then extended the window another two years until April 24.

"Persons who are out there who have been hesitating or reluctant to act will hopefully take the opportunity that the Legislature has provided to them and they will act now in order to preserve their rights," said Mark Gallagher, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Gallagher says he anticipates he'll be filing at least six more lawsuits against various defendants before April 24.

There are over 30 cases that have now been settled and several more that are in ongoing negotiations with the diocese and other defendants.

Secor told Hawaii News Now that the church did not have an opportunity to review the documents filed Wednesday.

"However, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu remains committed to treating victims of sexual abuse with compassion and respect, with the goal of providing just resolution," he said.


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