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Diocese To Pay $11.4M In Sex Abuse Suit

A jury on Friday found America's sixth-largest Roman Catholic diocese and one of its parishes negligent in a case involving a youth minister who repeatedly raped and sodomized teenagers in his care over several years.

The jury awarded the two victims a combined $11.4 million in damages in one of the rare civil cases to go to trial in the wake of the nationwide Catholic sex abuse scandal that erupted five years ago.

The jury found that the Diocese of Rockville Centre, one of its churches and a pastor were negligent in the hiring and retention of the youth minister who carried out the abuse. The jury cleared the defendants of being negligent in the supervision of the minister.

The six-person jury reached its decision after deliberating over eight days.

The trial included graphic testimony by a female victim who told the jury that former youth minister Matthew Maiello seduced her and eventually had sex with her in a variety of locations on church property — including church pews and the elementary school principal's office, as well as at their homes.

Maiello pleaded guilty to third-degree rape and sodomy in 2003 and served more than two years in prison, admitting he abused four children. But since Maiello did not contest any of the allegations against him, the real focus of the monthlong trial became St. Raphael's Church in East Meadow, N.Y., its pastor, the Rev. Thomas Haggerty, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The jury ordered them to pay the female victim about $5.5 million in damages, and a second male victim about $5.9 million.

The victims said that starting when they were 15, they were repeatedly molested by Maiello and that church officials failed to act when confronted by reports that the youth minister was acting inappropriately.

The victims, now 23, said the abuse lasted three years, from 1999 to 2002. The woman testified that Maiello took her virginity in a basement office in the church convent and eventually cajoled her into having sex with the boy in the youth ministry. Before long, Maiello was engaging in three-way sex with the teenagers — and videotaping other encounters.

"He would always tell me it was God's plan for us to be together," said the woman. "He controlled all of my thoughts — he manipulated me."