The woman said the sexual assault occurred when she was a student at Holy Cross spending a semester studying abroad in Rome. During a weekend retreat, she said, Fr. Daniel C. O’Connell, S.J. insisted on getting her a drink. Because she passed out, she said, she believes it was drugged. “I woke up on his bed as he was getting dressed,” she said.
“I do find credible your allegation of abusive behavior,” he wrote. “I deeply regret your suffering. My response is grounded on the hope that any future abuse can be prevented and that significant healing can continue to occur in your own life.”
The new lawsuit charges breach of contract and includes a number of related charges; it seeks just under $1 million in damages. (The suit also accuses Father O’Connell of harassing the woman over the Internet using a fake name, though neither the woman nor her lawyer would provide specific details.)
Father O’Connell apparently made at least two appearances at Fordham, one in 2008 and one in 2006 as the headliner at a symposium on scientific psychology versus religious faith, according to documents provided by the woman’s lawyer.
Literature for the symposium described Father O’Connell as “one of the premier psycholinguists in the U.S.A. and abroad.”
The woman wrote to the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, Fordham’s president, who canceled another scheduled appearance by Father O’Connell, and informed the Missouri Province that he was not to return to the campus, said Bob Howe, a Fordham spokesman. “Father McShane apologized to the woman,” Mr. Howe said, “and he assured her that Father O’Connell would never speak at or appear at any Fordham event.”
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