LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A married Catholic woman is suing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and an assistant pastor after he allegedly touched her in an inappropriate way at a South Bay church last year.
Catherine Bergin filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday, alleging sexual harassment, sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She seeks unspecified damages.
An archdiocese spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment.
The suit states that the Rev. Nicholas Assi, the assistant pastor at St. Basil’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles, was assigned to American Martyrs Catholic Church in Manhattan Beach as an assistant pastor from 2009 until last May 2. Assi was known as Father Nick and he became a friend of the Bergin family while at American Martyrs, the suit states.
He often brought Middle Eastern treats for Bergin’s children and “was always warm and friendly,” the suit states.
But last April 17, while doing volunteer work in the sacristy, Assi came up from behind Bergin, put his arms around her and whispered, “Hi, darling,” the suit alleges.
Assi caressed Bergin’s lower abdomen and “put his nose in plaintiff’s neck and took deep breaths,” according to the lawsuit.
Assi engaged in similar inappropriate behavior with Bergin in December 2013 and March 2014, kissing her on the lips on the latter occasion, the lawsuit alleges.
Bergin told her husband about Assi’s alleged misconduct and also complained to church leaders, the suit states. A monsignor reacted to Assi’s alleged behavior by telling Bergin, “I told him to use more discretion,” the
An investigator who looked into the the complaints on behalf of the archdiocese told Bergin that Assi “totally did it” and did not deny the plaintiff’s allegations, the suit states.
However, the investigator also denied Bergin was sexually assaulted and said he “only committed some boundary violations,” according to the complaint.
Assi was forced to leave American Martyrs Church last May and an announcement that he was being placed on administrative leave was printed in the parish bulletin, the suit states.
However, an archdiocese oversight board that monitors clergy misconduct recommended that Assi “be reinstated to priestly functions and reassigned to another parish,” the suit states.
Assi also has been assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Pomona and St. Pancratius Catholic Church in Lakewood, according to the lawsuit.