Judge says Catholic
Church can blame
victims’ mother in
sexual abuse lawsuit

Her lawyer decries the legal tactic
in a case involving her 2 sons

By Mary Adamski

A state judge will permit the Catholic Church to defend itself in a sexual molestation suit by claiming that the mother of the two victims contributed to the psychological damage the youths sustained.

Circuit Judge Gary W.B. Chang ruled yesterday that he will allow the counterclaim, which is "based on the theory that the parents were negligent." But, he said, "The court is not determining the legitimacy of the claim."

The motion was made in a lawsuit filed against Manuel Feliciano, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison for six counts of sexual abuse against the older boy, now 18.

The suit also claims that Feliciano sexually molested the younger child, now 14. Feliciano was a sacristan supervising altar boys between 1993 and 1995 when the offenses occurred.

The mother allowed her children, then 7 and 10 years old, to sleep overnight at Feliciano's home, said the motion by attorney William Bordner. He is representing Honolulu Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, the Hawaii Catholic diocese and Sts. Peter & Paul Church, where Feliciano worked, all named as defendants in the suit.

The church's motion also claimed that the mother "engaged in explicit sexual behavior in the presence of her young children," was a substance abuser and voluntarily abandoned custody of her children after they moved to the mainland from Hawaii. The motion said the teenagers have both been involved in criminal conduct, and the older youth was incarcerated for offenses that included sexual assault of the younger.

Bordner told Chang that the mother had been involved in a "breach of duty causing harm" and that Hawaii law permits two or more parties to be held responsible for the same injury.

Mark Davis, attorney for the woman identified only as "K.J." in court documents to protect the identity of the minor victims, said: "The family is offended that the church should want to sue them when they went to the church for religious and spiritual support. The church also wanted to sue the children."

The suit asked for unspecified damages, claiming that as a direct result of the sexual abuse, the boys "sustained severe and permanent injuries to their physical and psychological health."

They seek help with continuing expenses for "medical and psychiatric attention in an effort to be cured and healed of the said injuries."

Feliciano, 74, was sentenced in November 2000 to one year in prison and five years' probation. He has not responded to the suit, Davis said.

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