September 30, 2014
Farmer Jaffe Weissing attorney Adam Horowitz filed a lawsuit last week against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice alleging that Eucharistic Minister Robert Little sexually abused his client, a 13-year old boy, on multiple occasions in summer 2013. The boy attended church and school at the same parish where Robert Little participated in mass. The lawsuit has attracted significant local and national media attention, including a story in USA TODAY, scrutinizing the Diocese of Venice’s handling of an earlier complaint about Robert Little’s assault of another boy from the same church.
In July 2014, 74-year old Robert Little pleaded guilty to the molestation and is now a registered sex offender. The lawsuit alleges that in 2011 Robert Little sexually assaulted another boy at St. Francis Xavier Church. This incident was reported to representatives of Diocese of Venice’s parish St. Francis Xavier, including the Pastor, Father Gregg Caggianelli, and St. Francis Xavier school principal Jan Ortenzo. Indeed, the Lee County Sheriff is that boy’s nephew and he personally reported the incident to church officials, according to an interview he provided to the media.
As a Eucharistic Minister and employee or agent of St. Francis Xavier Parish, Robert Little was under the supervision of the Diocese of Venice and the priests of St. Francis. The lawsuit alleges that despite a specific report that Robert Little assaulted a boy, the Diocese of Venice and St. Francis Xavier did nothing to (a) remove the Eucharistic minister from the church; (b) provide heightened supervision; (c) warn parishioners as to his dangerous propensities; or (d) limit his contact with minors.
The lawsuit was filed by the boy’s mother on behalf of her son, who is now 14 years old. For a period of years, the mother attended St. Francis Xavier and for one year her son attended sixth grade at Father Anglim Academy, an affiliated Catholic school for children who are developmentally delayed. As a result of their frequent attendance at church and involvement in parish life at St. Francis Xavier, the mother and her son became closely acquainted with Robert Little, who held a lay leadership position in the church mass and assisted priests with mass, including the sacred obligation involving the Eucharist. During this same period of time, the Mother became destitute and unemployed following a divorce. For a period of months, church officials including Robert Little, provided charitable assistance to the boy and his mother, including transportation, food, and other needs. As a part of this charitable assistance, Little offered to buy the boy and his mother breakfast or lunch and take them to a timeshare in Fort Myers Beach where the boy could swim in a pool. Because of the charity they had received and the religious authority of Robert Little, the mother accepted the offer Robert Little bought them food and then went swimming in the pool with the boy. This occurred 10 to 12 times during summer 2013 on an approximately weekly basis. After each swim, Little and the boy went into the bathroom adjacent to the pool after they went swimming to change out of their swimming trunks. On some of the occasions. Little molested the boy and fondled his genitals. Little was interviewed by law enforcement and he admitted to them that he fondled the boy’s genitals and that he had previously committed similar acts with underage boys. Robert Little told police he had a sexual interest in pre-pubescent boys and explained that he touched the boy’s genitals because it would “help him with his fantasies.” Little admitted to viewing child pornography on his computer and confessed that he joined a Catholic men’s group in order to have his vows “keep him under control.”
Notably, upon first receiving the lawsuit, the Diocese of Venice issued a press release stating: “At no time either prior to or since the arrest of Mr. Robert Little did the Diocese of Venice or the Parish receive any complaint of an assault by Mr. Little as alleged in the complaint.” The following day the Diocese of Venice quickly backtracked in a revised press release which they titled a “clarification statement”, which stated: “In 2011 a couple reported that their son felt uncomfortable in the presence of Robert Little” at St. Francis Xavier. The Release further states that Robert Little was instructed by the Diocese of Venice to have no contact with the family. Notably, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott spoke to the media and reported that the 2011 victim was his nephew and that he personally reported his nephew’s assault to church leaders at St. Francis.
The lawsuit was filed in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for the State of Florida in Lee County. Case No. 14-CA-002790 has been assigned to Lee Circuit Judge Alana Laboda.
Our attorneys are experienced in handling lawsuits involving clergy sexual abuse by priests and other leaders of religious organizations, including other cases against the Diocese of Venice. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual battery or child sexual abuse, please contact our law firm at 855-700-PATH or send an e-mail to sexual abuse attorney Adam Horowitz at [email protected] Farmer Jaffe Weissing handles sexual abuse cases nationwide.