Attorneys have filed a lawsuit on behalf of two men accusing Father George DeCosta, a revered Big Island priest, of sexually abusing two boys while he worked as a chaplain at a Catholic school on Oahu.
The alleged abuse occurred during the late 1960s at Damien Memorial High School, according to the suit filed Friday in Hawaii First District Court.
DeCosta worked as the parish priest at Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church in Keaukaha for three decades before retiring in 2002. He now lives in Volcano.
The allegations of abuse were first made last August when the plaintiffs filed a claim for damages against the Christian Brothers of Ireland, which operates the school, in federal bankruptcy court.
The lawsuit against DeCosta and the school says the priest grinded his erect genitals against the back of one of the plaintiffs while he was kneeled praying during a camping trip.
The other plaintiff claims DeCosta fondled his genitals and forced him to masturbate him while serving detention. He also alleges DeCosta gave him alcohol and forced him into skinny-dipping.
Both claim physical, emotional and psychological injuries.
“The sexual abuse of plaintiffs and the circumstances under which it occurred caused plaintiffs to develop confusion, various coping mechanisms and symptoms of psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, repression and disassociation,” the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs are identified as John Doe 6 and 7.
DeCosta said Monday he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit but still denies the allegations.
“I don’t know anything about it yet,” he said.
Joelle Casteix, western regional director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said more alleged victims may be added to the lawsuit.
Sixteen claims alleging abuse were filed in bankruptcy court against the school.
The bankruptcy process set a deadline for financial claims, resulting in them being filed before the lawsuits.
So far, five lawsuits have been filed against the school, against five different staff members, said Mike Reck, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
“I think that it’s abundantly clear that the leadership at the school and at the diocese level turned a blind eye to the abuse,” he said.
Casteix called Hawaii a “dumping ground” for abusive priests.
“It’s time for victims to get their voices back,” she said.
Reck said the suit will allow more documents to become public that the attorneys believe will show that the school knew abuse was occurring.
“This is the single most powerful tool for transparency and accountability,” he said.
A state law has provided a two-year window for victims of sexual abuse to file suits without a statute of limitations.
DeCosta said he isn’t providing any religious services and stopped working with Music Ministry Alive last summer.
The school and Diocese of Honolulu couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.