Three former Servite High School students allege they were repeatedly sexually assaulted by a priest, according to three new lawsuits filed in court, the latest in a series of allegations levied against a clergyman who also acted as a teacher and swimming coach at the prestigious school.
A total of eight former students have filed lawsuits against the private school in Anaheim and Father Kevin Fitzpatrick, who, according to the attorney for several of the plaintiffs, worked to gain the trust of young boys at the school and “commandeered” a room that was used to isolate and sexually abuse them.
At one point, according to Mike Reck, one of the attorneys , Fitzpatrick also brought what resembled an old barber’s chair that victims said was used during some of the alleged abuse.
Allegations against Fitzpatrick first surfaced in a June lawsuit, which was followed by four more lawsuits from four other alleged victims in September. Fitzpatrick died in 1997.
The latest allegations were included in three complaints recently filed in Orange County Superior Court.
“It’s really shocking, but as his time in Servite went on, the pattern of allegations appear to become more brazen,” Reck told The Times.
The allegations of abuse have rocked the prestigious school known for its athletics. Fitzpatrick, who worked at the school from 1970 to 1992, was a prominent figure during his tenure, teaching math and religious courses, and coaching the school’s swim and polo teams. According to court records, he became assistant principal in 1977.
In 2017, the school completed a $5.7-million project that was named the “Father Kevin Fitzpatrick Aquatic Center,” but it removed the name this year after the allegations against the priest surfaced.
“Servite was trading on the reputation of Father Fitzpatrick up until the first lawsuit was filed,” Reck said. “They put his name up and his photo.”
Stephen Walswick, Servite High School principal and interim president, told The Times in a statement the school could not comment on pending litigation, but said student safety was the school’s highest priority.
“Servite High School will continue to review and maintain its current protocols and processes for keeping its students safe,” he said. “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 alleged abuse happened during the ‘70s and ‘80s, but a California law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 — AB 219 — extended the statute of limitations of child abuse allegations and gave a three-year window for allegations that extend beyond the time limit to be filed in court. The three-year window closes at the end of 2022.
Reck said a pattern emerges in many of the allegations against Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick would allegedly comment about the bodies of students in the pool area, especially members of the aquatic teams who wore Speedo swimsuits, Reck said. The priest is also accused of using his disciplinary authority to lure and abuse some of the victims.
In one case, Reck said, a victim was “blackmailed” after he was found with drugs.
Fitzpatrick “told him he would report it if he didn’t comply with his sexual advances,” Reck said.
In another allegation, a child was caught cheating during an entrance exam for Servite, and Fitzpatrick threatened that the student would be denied entry and that his parents would be told of the cheating if he didn’t comply with Fitzpatrick’s demands, Reck said.
“It’s a horrible thing to read and to hear that children went through this, but I think the open question is, how was he allowed to operate for decades at this institution?” Reck said.
The lawsuits name the Order of Friar Servants of Mary, which oversees the school.
They also name the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Diocese of Orange as defendants. According to the suits, the two organizations are named because they were responsible for funding, staffing and the direction of parishes, schools and fraternal organizations, such as the Order of Friar Servants of Mary.
Orange County fell under the Archdiocese of Los Angeles until 1976, when the Diocese of Orange was formed.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Orange declined to comment on the suit.
“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,” spokesperson Jarryd Gonzales said in a statement.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Fitzpatrick was not a priest under the archdiocese, and said the archdiocese was committed to the safety of the children in its parishes.
“We take seriously every allegation of misconduct involving a minor, whether by clergy or lay person,” the statement read. “Allegations of misconduct against anyone serving the Archdiocese is reported to law enforcement, fully investigated, and under Zero-Tolerance, anyone who is found to have harmed a minor is permanently removed from any capacity in the Archdiocese.”
For many of the victims, Reck said, the most pressing questions aren’t just about the abuse that occurred, but how it was allowed to continue.
“He’s a priest, and other priests worked with him and lived with him,” Reck said. “This wasn’t an isolated incident. We’re talking about numerous assaults on campus.”