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
"His allegations and his coming forward was basically shut down," Jeffrey Herman, attorney for the men, said outside the Knights' headquarters in
Patrick Korten, senior vice president for the Knights, said there was no indication in the records at headquarters of such a complaint, but he said he doesn't know about records in
"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
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
"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."
Dennehy 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
John Doe, who lives in
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.