Woman Sues LA Archdiocese For Sexual Harassment Charges Against Pastor

(FOX 11 / 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 suit states.

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.

Statement from the Archdiocese Of Los Angeles:

"The Archdiocese received a report of misconduct against Fr. Assi by an adult female parishioner in 2014. The matter was reported to the police and Fr. Assi was removed from ministry pending the result of the police investigation. Statements were also read at the parish informing parishioners of the matter and announcements were made at prior parishes that he served at. The Archdiocese offered the female parishioner professional counseling and she declined. The Archdiocese did not receive any previous reports of misconduct prior to the 2014 report and has not received any other similar complaints against Fr. Assi.

The matter was investigated by law enforcement and the District Attorney's office declined to press any charges. After cooperating with law enforcement and following all archdiocesan protocols, Fr. Assi was returned to ministry as a priest in good standing. The Archdiocese recently was informed that the female parishioner alleged additional details arising out of the same incident that were not previously reported to the Archdiocese during the investigation in 2014. The Archdiocese informed law enforcement of the information and offered the female parishioner an opportunity for further interviews, which she declined. Law enforcement informed the Archdiocese that the information did not result in reopening the case. The case has since been closed."

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