Judge dismisses ex-seminarian’s lawsuit against Pontifical North American College seminary

Pontifical North American College The Pontifical North American College is a major seminary in Rome that educates seminarians from U.S. diocese and elsewhere. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA

A New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former seminarian against the Pontifical North American College major seminary and its administrators, stating that the New York court does not have jurisdiction over the Rome-based seminary and its employees.

In a civil lawsuit filed in February 2021, plaintiff Anthony J. Gorgia, a former student at the NAC, had sought $125 million in damages in civil court against the seminary, as well as rector Father Peter Harman, former vice rector Father Adam Park, and NAC lecturer Father John G. McDonald, along with New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York.

Gorgia claimed in the lawsuit that he had been blocked from continuing his studies for the priesthood after he witnessed Park, then the vice rector, give an inappropriate back rub to a subordinate seminarian.

Lawyers for Gorgia and the plaintiffs were not immediately available for comment on Jan. 18 prior to publication.

According to court documents, Judge Lizette Colon of the New York State Supreme Court in Richmond County (Staten Island), New York, granted the defendants’ motions to have the complaints dismissed on Jan. 13, following a virtual hearing held on Jan. 5. 

Gorgia had originally filed suit on 12 causes of action, including defamation, wrongful discharge, sexual harassment, emotional distress, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, interference with prospective economic advantage, and Title VII discrimination.

He later filed a cross-motion to withdraw the Title VII discrimination, sexual harassment, and defamation causes, and the request was granted by the judge. A request to add additional complaints to the suit for breach of implied contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing were denied.

Gorgia's request for the court to permit the late service of the complaint was also denied.

According to the court’s decision, the dismissal of the suit against defendants was granted on multiple grounds, including because the plaintiff failed to provide adequate evidence that the New York court has personal jurisdiction over the NAC and its administrators, since the school’s primary place of business is in Rome, Italy.

“The court’s exercise of jurisdiction over the NAC, Harman, Park, and McDonald would also be improper as it would violate the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Colon wrote in her decision.

Colon also granted the dismissal because, she said, the plaintiff failed to properly serve the defendants with the lawsuit.

The judge granted the dismissal of the complaints against the Archdiocese of New York and Dolan for failure to timely serve the complaint, lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the ministerial exception doctrine, and failure to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action.

Colon declined to impose sanctions on Gorgia as requested by the Archdiocese of New York and Dolan for filing “a frivolous and harassing lawsuit.”

“The Court finds the Plaintiff’s actions in filing his complaint were not frivolous … and were made with a good faith basis. The imposition of sanctions is not warranted,” the judge wrote.

Gorgia began his seminary studies in 2015 for the Archdiocese of New York. In the summer of 2017, he started at the North American College in Rome, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, he left the NAC in 2018 for a period during the first semester of his second year of formation to undergo an operation on his spine in his home diocese.

In the lawsuit, Gorgia accused Harman, Park, and McDonald of creating “false accusations'' about him to prevent his planned return to the seminary after an estimated six-week recovery period. Gorgia claims this was done because of his heterosexual orientation and the defendants’ desire “to protect themselves from exposure of their predatory homosexuality at the NAC.”

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The lawsuit stated that Gorgia submitted a letter of resignation as a seminarian of the archdiocese of New York in January 2019, “under duress.”

The suit also claimed that Cardinal Dolan did not fulfill his responsibilities toward Gorgia as a seminarian of his archdiocese by refusing to meet with him or hear his side of the story, and by asking him to complete a nine-month parish internship assignment before being considered for a return to the NAC based on, Gorgia claims, three “utterly false” reasons.

The Archdiocese of New York had said the claims in the case “are absurd and have no basis in fact or law. We are prepared to defend against it, and are seeking its dismissal in court.”

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