Following the dust-up over the donations and the renovation, O’Hara-Rusckowski allegedly told other people that Avodah had misappropriated and “stolen” funds, the suit alleges.
O’Hara-Rusckowski’s alleged statements “interfered with Avodah’s nonprofit work by causing the religious sisters to be erroneously concerned about the status of their work visas and to erroneously believe their work visas were in jeopardy.” In addition, the situation led “several religious sister organizations to terminate their employment agreements with Avodah.”
The suit alleges that the group lost out on “millions of dollars in withdrawn donations and fundraising for projects intending to benefit Avodah.”
In a statement to CNA Jan. 29, O’Hara-Rusckowski called the lawsuit an “unfortunate distraction.”
“As someone who has worked tirelessly for many years to support survivors and battle the scourge of human trafficking, I am outraged and deeply dismayed to hear about the lawsuit filed against the Order of Malta and myself by Keenan Fitzpatrick and Avodah,” O’Hara-Rusckowski said.
“My work and reputation speak for themselves — these allegations are baseless and absurd and serve solely as an unfortunate distraction. I will continue to do this vital work with my partners and look forward to the opportunity to tell the true story.”
‘Deception and excuses’
In a Feb. 3, 2023, letter, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver noted that Avodah’s status as a Catholic organization had been revoked the previous August following “a review of the operations and structure” by Denver’s vicar general, Father Randy Dollins.
In his February letter, Aquila said Avodah had sought to change Dollins’ initial decision and that discussions were held with Avodah’s leaders to discuss structural changes.
“Dialogue continued in a positive direction until the end of January 2023, when my staff began receiving complaints from the various groups of religious sisters that Avodah has trained and oversees in several cities,” Aquila continued.
“After inquiries by my staff, we learned that these complaints are not isolated but systemic. Moreover, when Avodah was confronted with these issues, my staff was met with deception and excuses. As a result of similar problems, two prominent Catholic ministries dedicated to helping sex-trafficking victims have also cut ties with Avodah.”
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Concluding his letter, Aquila announced he had decided “that the Catholic status of Avodah will not be restored and that further discussions will not be entertained.”
“It saddens me to inform you of this, since the need for faith-filled ministries that help sex-trafficking victims is great,” the archbishop wrote.
“I am making this news public so as to prevent the spread of rumors and to ensure that it is known that the sisters who work with Avodah are without blame in this situation.”
CNA reached out to the Archdiocese of Denver for additional comment Thursday but did not hear back by publication time.
In a Feb. 13, 2023, response to Aquila’s letter, Avodah’s board of directors stated that “our review of information gained in conversations and internal records in no way aligns with the statements made by the archdiocese.”
“Our primary goal continues to be the Christ-centered care of the women and children we serve. As we have never been formally affiliated with the Archdiocese of Denver, this decision does not change the nature of our partnership with the religious sisters and does not affect our commitment to following the teachings of the Catholic Church in all we do,” the group wrote.