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Calif. Priest and Swim Coach Kevin Fitzpatrick committed Sex Abuse, ex-student alleges

A 60-year-old California man says that Father Kevin Fitzpatrick repeatedly assaulted him at Servite High School in the 1970s.

A lawsuit alleges school officials should have known “Father Fitz” was a predator who preyed on students at Servite. The plaintiff says that Fitzpatrick later left him alone after he grew big enough to say “No” and fend off the assaults.

The plaintiff in the case alleges the sexual assaults began in the spring of 1976 while he was a 13-year-old eighth-grader taking an entrance exam at the all-boys school in Anaheim, Calif.

Caught cheating on the math portion of an exam, the man told a recent interviewer that he couldn’t stop crying.

The most important thing to him, he said, was that he didn’t want to disappoint his parents. He was afraid the teacher would report him to the parents. Instead, Father Fitzpatrick appeared and seemed to offer him a way of being accepted at Servite.

The man said he was told (as that 13-year-old boy) to pick up his things and go out into the hallway. There he was met by Father Kevin Fitzpatrick, who coached the school’s swimming and water polo teams, and also acted as an algebra and religion teacher.

“He literally grabbed me and said, ‘You’re going to be fine,’” the man recalled.

Father Fitzpatrick then took the boy to his office in an annex between the school’s main building and its athletic facilities. It was there that “Father Fitz” molested him, according to an interview and court filings. Afterward Fitzpatrick asked the boy if he really wanted to attend Servite.

Getting “Cleaned Up”

“Yes,” the man said he told Fitzpatrick. He did want to stay in the school.

He said Fitzpatrick then told him: “I can help you. Get cleaned up.’”

The boy was admitted to Servite, where Fitzpatrick molested and sexually assaulted him more than a dozen times a year, according to the interview and a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.

Nearly 50 years later, after visiting his old school campus in summer 2021, he spent months being triggered by Servite memories. He then began to re-evaluate his entire life.

“I went down to campus to reminisce,” said the man. “I was in Orange County and just driving around aimlessly. I went by my childhood home and I went by Servite.”

While touring the area, the man discovered that the school’s huge aquatic center was named after the man he says abused him. The Father Kevin Fitzpatrick Aquatics Center at Anaheim’s Servite High School is named after the accused pedophile priest. Seeing the $5.7 million state-of-the-art facility (completed in 2017) named for his abuser enraged the former student.

“I saw this plaque and thought ‘(f***) this,” said the man, referring to a large plaque dedicating the center to Fitzpatrick. “It just pissed me off. It was like (********) man. This is the germ that built this really ugly plant that is part of my life.

“I started to relive everything, and it was fresh, and it got fresher and fresher.

“Everything that is in my life – choices, women, horrible relationships with bosses – it always goes back to that.”

The man decided to file a lawsuit against Servite, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Diocese of Orange, and the Order of Servants of Mary.

The suit further alleges that Sevite employees missed obvious signs that should have alerted them to Fitzpatrick’s misconduct. The man also suspects he wasn’t the priest’s only (alleged) victim.

“Father Fitz had a room, it’s his own space. With a barber’s chair,” the man said. “That’s a red flag. And then like all of a sudden [he] was gone.

“He was the most popular person at the school and all of a sudden he was gone. They transferred Father Fitz. Why?”

The man said he doesn’t believe his is an isolated case.

Kevin Fitzpatrick worked at Servite from 1970 to 1992. He was transferred to Our Savior Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1993, where he lasted a year, before being transferred to a church in suburban Portland, Oregon. The accused priest died in 1997.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles a Defendant

Because the Diocese of Orange was not founded until March 1976, the suit also names the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

New Law makes Lawsuit Possible

The lawsuit is possible after all these years because of Assembly Bill 218. Signed into law in 2019, it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, creating a three-year window to file past claims that had expired under the statute of limitations.

Under current California law, 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, that he (or she) was sexually abused.

The law requires that plaintiffs meet a mental health practitioner and receive a certificate of merit to file under AB218. According to his attorney, the plaintiff in this case has received a certificate of merit to file.

The man’s attorney asks whether the school will take the accused’s name off the aquatic center. He also wonders if school officials will say they are sorry and tell other potential victims to please come forward and tell their stories. Or will the church circle the wagons to protect their own, as many churches have done in recent years.

The Diocese of Orange said it could not comment on pending litigation. An Archdiocese of Los Angeles spokesperson said she needed to gather more information before commenting. Servite did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

Was the Revered Father Fitz a Pedophile Grooming the Children in Plain Sight?

Known as “Father Fitz” in his two decades at Servite, Kevin Fitzpatrick was a beloved member of the faculty. Besides coaching, teaching, and maintaining the school’s pool, which he also opened to neighborhood kids, he was known for giving Servite students free haircuts on the pool deck and in the barber chair he kept in an office in the school’s annex. If the charges are true, “grooming” is the operative word.

During an April 2016 groundbreaking ceremony for the aquatics center, Servite president Pete Bowen said, “Father Fitz was a model friar, providing counseling and spiritual direction, and it is important to take time to say thank you.”

Mr. Bowen said then that Fitzpatrick had a special gift of relating to students from a wide range of backgrounds. The Orange County Catholic wrote in a May 2016 article on the groundbreaking that the priest was “known for living the Servite Charisms of Fraternity, Service and Humility.”

In an interview and court filings, the plaintiff in this case portrays Fitzpatrick as a predatory priest who regularly preyed on a small, shy, insecure boy.

“The first two years (at Servite) I assumed [Fitzgerald] got me in,” said the man, who estimates he was just 5-foot-5 and weighed 125 pounds as a freshman. “The first two years I was petrified that at any moment I would be out.”

He said he was a very little kid who “looked feminine.”

The man estimates that “at least 20 times a year” while he was at Servite, Fitzpatrick would tell him he needed a haircut and bring him to his office and tell him to sit in the barber chair.

“He would put hair clips in my hair and say, ‘What a pretty girl you are’ and masturbate. And he would tell me ‘Don’t you dare move.’

“I feel sorry for that kid,” the man said. He said he changed his name as an adult because he didn’t want to be that kid anymore.

“Because that kid was so fragile. I cried every day. I cried every day until my 18th birthday.”

The sexual assaults stopped when the boy grew to be 5’8″ tall and 180 lbs. by his senior year.

He said he remembers a time then when Fitzgerald told him, ‘Come get a haircut,’ and I said ‘No.’ (He) realized [then] I could break his jaw.”

The man said he has struggled with relationships and bosses, and that haircuts still trigger anxiety. Though he changed his name, he couldn’t escape the past.

“I’m single because of this,” he said. “I’m 60 and I’m unmarried. I can say without equivocation (that) I’m single because of this. I have a huge intimacy problem and this is why. If you’re sneaking up on me, I’m the jumpiest person you’ve ever met.”

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