SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — A Northwest Arkansas man accused a former Springdale priest of sexual abuse in a lawsuit against St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and the Diocese of Little Rock.
The man, listed as “John Doe” in the complaint, said he was sexually abused by Father Joseph Correnti from 1995-2002. During that period, Correnti was assigned to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Tontitown. The suit alleged that the man was 14 or 15 years old at the time the abuse began.
“Our client was a minor and suppressed what had happened to him,” said Rick Woods, one of the man’s lawyers. “There’s no doubt that our client was sexually assaulted, and I’m not gonna go into specifics of what happened, but that is a line that should never even be approached.”
Woods said Correnti groomed his client with gifts, alcohol and personal time. The man is still struggling to understand his relationship with the priest, who committed suicide in 2002. Correnti left a suicide note addressed to the accuser and indicated that he played a role in his death.
“Our client blames himself for the death to a certain degree, which he shouldn’t,” Woods said. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Patrick Noaker is the other co-counsel listed on the complaint, and he said “John Doe” still battles thoughts of the priest, who the lawyer described as a “ghost from his past”.
“I believe that they have moved his body to some other place, because this boy used to literally have to drive past his grave every single day,” Noaker said. “It was extremely painful for him.”
The man sued St. Joseph’s and the Diocese of Little Rock because he believes both allowed Correnti to continue in his role as priest despite being aware of sexual abuse allegations. The complaint states there are at least five known victims of Correnti’s sexual abuse.
“This is not something new,” Woods said. “This has been going on for a long time, and it’s come to light over the last decade that it’s pervasive in the church. Only the church and the parishioners can clean it up.”
In a statement, Dennis Lee, the Little Rock Diocese’s Chancellor for Administrative Affairs, said the diocese will “not respond publicly at this time” but will acknowledge that Correnti “was included on the list of priests…against whom allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor or minors have been considered credible.”
Woods said Correnti preferred to take advantage of his victims away from St. Joseph’s.
“I can say that the perp’s method of attack would be to isolate his victims in other settings,” Woods said. “That’s as deep as I want to go into it.”
The man cannot live alone or operate in everyday society, Woods said, and his family is struggling with its faith in Roman Catholicism. The priest was treated as a pseudo-deity within the family, and he was given access to the man and earned his trust by confiding in him.
“They’re conflicted, because this is a Roman Catholic family,” Woods said. “You just never would’ve dreamed that this person of trust would come into your home and violate your child, so as you can imagine, they’re terribly conflicted with their religious views.”
After serving at Our Lady of the Holy Souls in Little Rock, Correnti took a “leave of absence” from priesthood, according to the lawsuit. The accuser’s lawyers said they have reason to believe he was attending rehabilitation or some sort of counseling during this time. That he was allowed to return to the diocese and take the role at St. Joseph’s in 1995 indicates blame toward the two defendants, Woods said.
“If we keep shedding light on it, maybe it’ll put more pressure on the [Catholic] church to prevent this from happening to other people,” Woods said. “That’s the one thing I think people should keep an eye on.”
Woods said the lawsuit was filed in the hopes that both defendants would supply a monetary reimbursement to the accuser to cover his mental-health costs, which include therapy in counseling. The lawyer said both avenues will be life-long endeavors.