29 Jan 2011

Lawsuit against largest Catholic lay organization Knights of Columbus alleges cover up of child sex abuse

The Washington Post - December 14, 2010

Knights of Columbus suit claims sex abuse cover-up

Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Two men sued the Knights of Columbus on Tuesday alleging a youth leader sexually abused them decades ago and the world's largest Catholic lay organization covered up one of the men's earlier allegations of abuse.

The lawsuits claim that Juan "Julian" Rivera, a former leader of the Columbian Squires in Brownsville, Texas, abused the men in the 1970s and '80s when they were boys. One of the victims told Knights of Columbus officials in 1986 that he had been sexually abused by Rivera, but the Knights concealed the report of abuse and intimidated the victim into not making the abuse public, one lawsuit alleges.

"His allegations and his coming forward was basically shut down," Jeffrey Herman, attorney for the men, said outside the Knights' headquarters in New Haven as he announced the two lawsuits. "We believe that the Knights of Columbus organization was aware of what was taking place."

Patrick Korten, senior vice president for the Knights, said the organization vigorously denies the allegations. He said the organization acted quickly to remove Rivera and refer the matter to police in Texas when officials first learned of the allegations last year.

"There is nothing more important to us than to ensure the safety of the children in that program," Korten said.

Korten said the Knights established a youth protection program in 2003 that includes background checks on all applicants to be youth leaders.

There was no answer at a phone listed in Rivera's name. Larry Prather, chairman of the Texas Squires state council, said a phone number he believed was Rivera's was dead and his e-mail account was deleted.

Herman said he believes the lawsuits are the first against the Knights of Columbus to allege sexual abuse of children. Each lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages.

"It broadens the whole issue of the sexual abuse crisis and frankly further damages the Catholic Church's reputation," said Chuck Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University.

The Knights of Columbus is a well-regarded, generous organization which runs a large insurance program, Zech said. "They have deep pockets," he said.

One of the victims, 49-year-old Jim Dennany of Texas, identified himself in the lawsuit, while the other was filed as a John Doe. The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Herman said Dennany believes using his name will help protect other children from abuse.

"I brought this lawsuit today because I do not ever want another child to be hurt the way that I was hurt," Dennany said in a statement to the AP. "I do not want anyone else who is suffering and blaming themselves to hurt anymore. I feel that it is time for the Knights of Columbus to be held accountable for what happened to me."

Dennany said the abuse affected every aspect of his life.

"I do not trust anyone, especially with my family members," he said. "I have lived most of my life feeling ashamed and dirty for what Julian Rivera did to me. My abuse has affected everyone around me. I am hopeful that today is my first step toward healing myself and those that I love."

Dennany's lawsuit alleges Rivera sexually abused him at various locations throughout Texas and Mexico between 1973 and 1977. Dennany, who said Rivera plied him with alcohol and pornography, said the abuse led to guilt, shame, self-blame, depression and chemical dependency.

John Doe, who lives in Kansas, said Rivera plied him with whisky, marijuana, pornography and a white pill that he said would help him relax. He said when he hesitated to give Rivera a massage, Rivera pulled out a small handgun and placed it on the ground.

Rivera sexually abused John Doe for six years on overnight trips for local and national events of the Squires, his lawsuit alleges. The man said if he told anyone, Rivera said he would kill his family or cut off a body part and send it to his mother, according to the lawsuit.

Rivera also "shared" the boy with another adult leader of the Squires in another city who sexually abused him, the lawsuit alleges.

The man said he suffered chemical addictions, nightmares, depression and suicidal tendencies.

The man also claimed the Knights of Columbus tried to trick him last year into signing papers that would have prevented him from suing for damages over the alleged abuse.

Korten denied the allegation. "There is no question but that the individual knew exactly what he was signing," he said.

The organization said there were 27,983 Columbian Squires as of last June.

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Catholic News Agency - December 15, 2010

Knights of Columbus vigorously deny abuse cover up

By Marianne Medlin, Staff Writer

New Haven, Conn., Dec 15, 2010 / 05:33 pm (CNA)- The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization, is vehemently denying accusations that they willfully covered up reports that one of their members sexually abused minors several decades ago.

On Dec. 14, the Miami law firm Mermelstein & Horowitz filed two lawsuits against the Knights national organization and its leader, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, alleging that Julian Rivera, who worked as a leader in Columbian Squires youth program in Brownsville, Texas, sexually abused two boys in the 1970s.

One victim, who identifies himself as “John Doe,” says Rivera threatened him with sexual demands at gunpoint when he was as young as 12 years old, telling him that he would kill his family if he did not comply. The abuse, which began in 1970, is reported to have continued for several years.

The second plaintiff – who released his name as Jim Dennany – claims that Rivera began showing him pornography at age 12 and began sexually abusing him from the ages of 14 to 16.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue in the briefs that the Knights of Columbus had knowledge of abuse claims against Rivera but concealed them and kept him in a leadership position.

Complicating matters, attorneys for John Doe claimed that he reported his abuse to the Knights of Columbus in 2009, saying that he wanted to enter a treatment program for chemical dependence caused by the trauma of the abuse. The Knights of Columbus officials allegedly agreed that they would pay for his treatment and gave him $200 for his travel expenses to the facility.

Doe said that he was given two separate pages to sign as acknowledgment for receipt of the money and that a witness notarized the pages. Doe then said he later received an eight-page settlement agreement in the mail – a document which he claimed he had never seen before – that bore his signature releasing his legal rights.

The Knights of Columbus, which has never been sued over sex abuse charges, issued a statement Dec. 14, “vigorously” denying the accusations.

“Although we have not yet been served with the lawsuits, we have obtained and reviewed copies of the complaints, and we emphatically deny the allegations that have been made,” spokesman Patrick Korten said.

On the charges involving Rivera, Korten explained that they “first became aware of allegations of sexual abuse against him only one year ago, in December 2009.”

“We acted immediately, removing him from any responsibility involving youth programs, and referring the case to Brownsville law enforcement authorities.”

Rivera terminated his membership in the Knights of Columbus in January of this year.

Korten also said that in 2003 the Knights of Columbus formalized its “Youth Protection Program” to train youth leaders about how to protect children from abuse.

He added that every member who agrees to serve as a youth leader must undergo a background check every three years.

“The safety and well-being of the youngsters involved in our Columbian Squires program and all other youth activities of the Knights of Columbus are among our highest priorities, and are at the heart of our approach to helping young Catholics become faithful and responsible citizens and future leaders of the church,” Korten said.

As of 2010, there are 27,983 Columbian Squires in 1,483 of the group's Squires Circles.

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