Manhattan attorney John Aretakis likes to say that he’s in it for the long haul. And after 10 years of handling clergy-sexual-abuse cases—representing some 200 victims, from New York City to Albany and Long Island to Rochester—he has built a reputation as an aggressive foe of the Catholic Church. In the capital district, where he’s taken on Bishop Howard Hubbard, he remains controversial.
“John Aretakis has no fear,” one victim’s mother says.
Maybe that explains why Aretakis, Greek Orthodox himself, has agreed to represent Father Bob Hoatson, who is charging that three top Catholic bishops are “active homosexuals” who have covered up child molestation by priests for fear of exposing their sexual secrets. Like his client, Aretakis says he has one mission: “I’m here to expose the truth. I’m mad as hell at all priests and bishops, gay and straight, whose silence has caused harm to children.”
His passion has a way of stirring others. Contacted by the Voice, Hubbard spokesperson Kenneth Goldfarb instantly tried to raise doubts about Aretakis’s credibility, warning, “You should know something about Mr. Aretakis.”
Goldfarb brought up the June 2004 investigation into allegations that Hubbard had engaged in sexual relationships with several men, which was led by Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor whose name carries weight. Her inquiry found “no credible evidence” to substantiate a flurry of accusations (see “About That White Report”).
“The public record shows . . . that Mr. Aretakis made a public spectacle of false allegations against Bishop Hubbard,” Goldfarb wrote the Voice in a follow-up e-mail. He offered a list of 12 cases filed by Aretakis against the Albany diocese that have been dismissed. Some were thrown out in accordance with the statute of limitations, others for insufficient evidence. And he forwarded a 74-page January 20 decision by an Albany judge slapping Aretakis and clergy-abuse victims with a restraining order for protesting outside a church. In the ruling, Goldfarb made sure to point out, the judge “openly detailed and criticized Aretakis’s behavior.”
It’s true that Aretakis has yet to win a case against the Albany diocese, but in 1997, one of his clients received a settlement of nearly $1 million from the diocese in a clergy-abuse case—the state’s largest such settlement ever.
For those who track the Catholic clergy-abuse scandal, the church’s heated reaction to Aretakis only lends him credence. As one prominent a Boston lawyer who handles these cases puts it, “He has become a thorn in the church’s side, but he shouldn’t be dismissed. He’s the guy doing all the good work in that part of New York.”
His lawyer’s assertive style is precisely what appealed to Hoatson. “All those things the Albany diocese sent you,” the priest says, “I consider badges of courage.”
Aretakis, for his part, seems used to the battle. Diocesan officials, he says, “can demonize me all they want, but it’s not about me. It’s about my clients.”