2 lawsuits accuse Long Island diocese of turning blind eye to sex abuse

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Kristin Thorne reports on the lawsuit against the Diocese of Rockville Centre for allegedly ignoring sexual abuse.

A Suffolk County woman is suing the Diocese of Rockville Centre and others for allegedly ignoring sexual abuse she said she endured for more than a year at the hands of a church music director, the second of two lawsuits filed against the diocese this week.

The now-18-year-old woman claims that when she was 15, Efrain Villafane, the former music director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Patchogue, sexually assaulted her in the church's chapel and in a classroom. She said Villafane also raped her in his car and at a motel.

Villafane, of North Bellport, pleaded guilty in 2017 to third-degree rape and was sentenced to 10 years probation.

The woman also named in the lawsuit the parish of Mount Carmel, the parish's former pastor Rev. Benet Uwasombra, and the diocese's Bishop John Barres.

The woman's attorney, Michael Dowd, said police were made aware of the abuse by Villafane's girlfriend, who suspected he was having an affair and put a recording device in her car, which Villafane often used.

Dowd said when detectives first came to speak to the woman, she refused to speak with them. Instead, she went to Uwasombra to tell him about the abuse. According to the lawsuit, Uwasombra told the woman not to speak with police, telling her, "I don't want another scandal to get out" and "Only tell me, I will take care of this."

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Rockville Centre said the diocese learned in late August 2016 that Suffolk County police were investigating Villafane's conduct with a young parishioner and immediately contacted the Suffolk County District Attorney's office to cooperate with the law enforcement investigation.

The woman said after Villafane's indictment, she met with Barres and told him that Uwasombra told her not to speak with police. The woman alleges Barres allowed Uwasombra to transfer to two other parishes and did not take corrective employment action against him.

Uwasombra was transferred to the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in North Merrick in 2017 and is now said to be assigned to St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Church in Dix Hills. The diocese would not confirm that Owasombra works there, but when Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne called the church Wednesday, she was told that Uwasombra was in the office but on the other line.

A diocese spokesperson said the diocese has provided counseling to the woman.

"As is our practice, pastoral support including counseling by professionals experienced in the care of survivors of sexual abuse was,and continues to be, offered to the survivor," spokesperson Sean Dolan said.

The woman also names the parish of Mount Carmel in her suit because she said no one spoke to Villafane when they saw him alone with her, which is a violation of diocese rules.

"The pastor saw her alone with him, multiple volunteers and other employees saw her alone with Villafane," Dowd said. "They did nothing."

In the second lawsuit, a man is suing the diocese claiming it transferred Father Robert Huneke to Florida while knowing he was accused of molesting a child.

Fr. Huneke is also accused of sexually abusing a child once he arrived in St. Petersburg.

The suit claims bishops at both dioceses were aware of the accusations but did nothing.

"It's sad, because this victim didn't have to exist," said Becky Ianni, with the Survivors Network. "There is a perpetrator who moves from one location to another. They don't contact authorities. They don't let the public know. And then they go on to abuse again."

Fr. Huneke was assigned to St. Dominic's parish in Oyster Bay from 1969 to 1974.

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religioncatholic churchchurchsex abusesex abuse against childrenpriest sex abusereligionRockville Centre
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