Forty-seven years later, bolstered by 25 other allegations against the same priest, Leonard "Lexington" Filipowski may finally see his day in court.
Wednesday marked the first day of a yearlong window in which sexual abuse survivors in New York can file claims against their abuser — regardless of when the abuse took place — as part of New York’s Child Victims Act.
As an altar boy at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Middletown, New York, Filipowski says he was sexually abused by the Rev. George Boxelaar for the first time at 7-years-old. At around 9 a.m. Wednesday, Filipowski’s attorney Patrick Noaker filed a complaint in New York state Supreme Court, which he said will be the first of many cases.
“It’s really emotional. It’s been almost 30 years that I’ve been attempting to get justice,” said Filopowski. "The Bible says you shall know them by their fruits. The fruits I personally experienced were those of sexual depravity, pedophilia, a complete cover-up and noncaring about the sex crimes against me and so many other children.”
Boxelaar was relocated several times among locations of the Archdiocese of New York until 1985, according to bishopaccountability.org, when he retired in Holland and died five years later.
The Archdiocese of New York told amNewYork they have anticipated the law suits since the state passed the Child Victims Act in February. They declined, however, to respond to Filipowski’s case in particular.
“ … We continue to invite people to consider our successful program to bring compensation quickly to qualified claimants through the archdiocesan Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program,” they wrote. “We ask that people pray for peace and healing for all those who have suffered from the sin and crime of the sexual abuse of minors …”
Filipowski said repeated attempts to contact Cardinal Timothy Dolan — who is named as the defendant of several lawsuits filed Wednesday — about his case went unanswered. In response to the Archdiocese of New York’s statement, Filipowski said, “Let (Dolan) put his prayers where his mouth is.”
Other attorneys have taken on similar cases with plans to file within the next year. Attorneys Jeff Herman and Krisel McSweeney of Herman Law, who held a news conference outside the Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon, said they have already taken on hundreds of cases, and filed at least 10 on Wednesday. The attorneys urged victims to continue coming forward, especially those who are Latin American or Hispanic. McSweeney said that it is common practice for diocese to move priests to largely Latin or Hispanic communities, referred to as “dumping grounds,” once they are accused of sexual abuse
“We know there were a lot of Latin American children abused by priests and we urge them to come forward. It’s never too late for justice,” McSweeney said. “If there is a vulnerable population that is unable to speak up due to a language barrier or being undocumented, that would allow them to continue to get away with this as an institution.”
Another victim who came forward Wednseday, Andrew Jarkowsky, 80, said he was in foster care in New York from ages four to seven when he was sexually, physically, mentally, and emotionally abused. He did not speak English at the time — a barrier he said prevented him from speaking out against his abuser.
“I couldn’t form intimate relationships. I haven’t been married because I didn’t want any children of mine to go through what I went through,” he said through tears and emotional stutters.
After 40 years of fighting to raise awareness on clergy abuse and coping with his own experience, he said, “It’s taken me all this time to say, ‘No more, no more. I am worthwhile; I’m an important human being; I’m not less than; I’m not a comma in your life; I’m not a colon in your life; I’m a key player.’”
Collectively, Noaker Law Firm and Herman Law have filed claims against the Archdiocese of New York, Diocese of Brooklyn, Diocese of Rockville Centre, Boy Scouts of America, Rockefeller University and more. At least 85 people have filed lawsuits within the state, according to Reuters. After the year ends, victims can continue to sue until they are 55.
For now, the attorneys and survivors of sexual assault await what they assume will be a lengthy court process.
“It was never about the money; it’s about getting the truth out,” said Filipowski. “ … Today is the dawn of a new day for all of us survivors. A day where the truth will finally begin to be revealed. And a day, though long awaited by so many, ensures that justice will finally be served.”