Lawsuit: Former Fall River bishop negligent in failing to supervise priest accused of molestation
FALL RIVER — A lawsuit that accuses former Fall River Bishop Daniel A. Cronin of being negligent in failing to supervise a priest who allegedly molested two boys in the 1970s and 80s has been refiled in Massachusetts.
Originally submitted last year in Connecticut, the lawsuit was filed June 5 in Massachusetts after Cronin, the retired archbishop of Hartford, agreed to transfer the case and travel to Massachusetts to testify. Cronin also agreed to waive any statute of limitation defense.
“These two concessions are significant,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who is representing the two plaintiffs.
The original lawsuit had also named the Diocese of Fall River as a defendant, but the diocese is not named in the new lawsuit, a move that Garabedian described as a strategic legal decision.
The lawsuit alleges that the late Monsignor Maurice Souza sexually assaulted the victims from the time they were approximately 9 and 10 years old to when both were 17 years of age. Both alleged victims met Souza when he was the pastor of St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, which seeks monetary compensatory damages, says Souza, on more than 250 occasions, molested both boys while taking them on trips to Canada and nine states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The lawsuit also claims the victims spent nights with Souza in hotel rooms, a church rectory and Souza’s private residence in Taunton. One of the victims was raised in a family without a father and with a mother who was overwhelmed, and Souza took advantage of that situation, Garabedian said.
“Souza was a pure predator who freely sexually abused innocent children hundreds of times. There is no excuse for allowing such sexual abuse to occur,” said Garabedian, who has represented dozens of victims of clergy sexual abuse in civil lawsuits against the Catholic Church.
The alleged victims — both now in their late 40s — suffered “life-lasting serious harm,” Garabedian said. They also told their stories to Road to Recovery, Inc., a New Jersey-based nonprofit that advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse. Robert M. Hoatson, the co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, protested Tuesday morning across the street from the Diocese of Fall River’s headquarters on Highland Avenue.
“We were supporting these two victims who continue to fight for justice. Hopefully, justice will prevail. These guys are heroes. As a result of their courage, maybe more people will come forward, as we always hope,” said Hoatson, a former priest in New Jersey who said he was forced out of the priesthood after he began blowing the whistle against clergy sex abuse.
Souza, a native of New Bedford, died in August 1996 at age 83. He served in several parishes in New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton after he was ordained in 1939 until his retirement in 1986. The Diocese of Fall River said last year, when the lawsuit was first filed in Connecticut, that it did not have any other documented allegations of misconduct against Souza.