In the 1980s Servite High School Father Kevin Fitzpatrick convinced a football player at the school to switch to the swim team, according to the former student’s attorney.
Before long Fitzpatrick, the Servite swimming and water polo coach, was commenting on the teenager’s body, at one point even telling him he would look great in a Speedo, the attorney said.
Eventually, Fitzpatrick also began sexually assaulting the Servite student on the school’s campus, according to allegations in court records obtained by the Orange County Register.
The swimmer is one of three former Servite students who allege that Fitzpatrick sexually abused them on a regular basis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to three lawsuits recently filed in Orange County Superior Court.
Fitzpatrick was so beloved during his 22 years at Servite that the Roman Catholic all-boys school in 2017 named its $5.7 million state-of-the-art aquatic center after him.
But these most recent court filings raise the number of former Servite students who allege they were sexually assaulted by Fitzpatrick to eight and further underscore the portrayal of a predatory priest who, unchecked by either Servite or Diocese of Orange officials, allegedly routinely sexually abused students from the ages of 13 to 17 over a 13-year period from 1976 to 1989.
Fitzpatrick is named in all three of the recently filed suits which allege Servite and other Roman Catholic organizations were negligent in their supervision and retention of the priest. Servite, the Diocese of Orange, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Order of Friar Servants are also named in a suit in which a former Servite student, identified as John Doe 1692, alleges he was sexually abused by Fitzpatrick at the ages of 14 and 15 in 1978 and 1979 and that he was also sexually assaulted by Father John M. Kenny while serving as an altar boy between the ages of 11 and 13.
“It’s shocking that the Diocese of Orange was able to keep the rampant abuse by Father Fitzpatrick” under wraps “for years,” said Michael Reck, an attorney for the former Servite students.
“This man had access to children for decades. We do not know the full extent of who and how many kids he abused.
“Let’s call a spade a spade and there were responsible adults who could have and should have known. To say that the adults who were in charge of these children’s safety did not drop the ball would be a misnomer. It’s at the point now that if they didn’t know it appears to be a conscious effort to not know. I guess the question that we’ll really find out as the lawsuits proceed is how was the leadership able to ignore so many red flags. Did they choose not to? Did they choose to be ignorant? I don’t know. It’s absurd. Scary.”
Servite principal and interim president Stephen Walswick said in an email to the Register “The safety of our students is our highest priority.”
“Servite High School cannot specifically comment on these recent filings given the pending litigation,” Walswick continued. “Servite High School will continue to review and maintain its current protocols and processes for keeping its students safe. As Catholics, we must do everything we can to reduce the suffering and pain of others. We offer our prayers for continued strength and healing for all survivors of abuse.”
The suits are possible because of Assembly Bill 218, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 and went into effect January 1, 2020, created a three-year window to file past claims that had expired under the statute of limitations. That three-year window closes December 31.
Alleged survivors must file civil suits within eight years of becoming an adult or three years from the date an adult survivor “discovers” or should have discovered they were sexually abused, under current California law.
The law requires that plaintiffs meet a mental health practitioner and receive a certificate of merit to file under AB218.
Servite, the Diocese of Orange and the Order of Friar Servants of Mary are also defendants in the other two suits, but are currently referred to as “Does” in all defendants’ references because under AB 218 the names of defendants cannot be used in public documents until approved by a judge.
“While we can offer no comment on any pending litigation (especially since, to our knowledge, the Diocese has not been served), it is important to clarify that Servite High School is not under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Orange,” said Jarryd Gonzales, head of communications for the diocese.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Order of the Friar Servants of Mary did not respond to requests for comment.
But all three organizations are identifiable by references to their addresses, duties and purpose in the initial court filings obtained by the Register.
Fitzpatrick worked at Servite from 1970 to 1992. He was transferred to Our Savior Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1993 and then to a church in suburban Portland, Oregon in 1994. Fitzpatrick died in 1997.
The John Doe 1692 suit names the Archdiocese of Los Angeles because the Diocese of Orange was not founded until March 1976.
Kenny was one of 15 priests named by the Diocese of Orange in January 2004 as having sexually molested children. Kenny died in a motorcycle accident in 1977 while working as a priest in eastern Oregon.
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