Girls Were Abused at Church in ’60s and ’70s, Suit Alleges

The abuse, they said, came at the hands of Felix McGuire, the church’s longtime organist and piano teacher.

Christ’s Church is being sued over its former organist, who allegedly sexually assaulted two young girls at the church during a 10-year period spanning the 1960s and ’70s. Photo Christian Falcone
Published June 7, 2024 2:33 PM
3 min read

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An employee of Christ’s Church in Rye sexually abused two women repeatedly over a decade during their childhood, while the church and diocese turned a blind eye, a lawsuit claims.

The victims, identified in court filings as A.L. and R.C., said they were assaulted, raped, and on occasion, drugged at the episcopal Christ’s Church and other locations during a period from 1967-77 that led to “catastrophic and lifelong injuries.” The abuse, they said, came at the hands of Felix McGuire, the church’s longtime organist and piano teacher – who claimed to be a descendant of famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Despite (Felix) McGuire’s reputation as a sexual predator to young children … (McGuire) utilized his position of authority with the Diocese and the Church to sexually abuse Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit states.

Both the church and the Episcopal Diocese of New York are named defendants in the litigation, which was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court through the state’s Child Victims Act. Christ’s Church is located at 2 Rectory St. in Rye.

According to the filing, one victim, R.C., was subjected to McGuire’s abuse beginning in 1967, when he would force her to touch him sexually during piano lessons at the church. The abuse ran rampant “between one and two times per week” until 1977. McGuire also drugged the victim, at times to the point of unconsciousness, while raping and sodomizing her, the suit says.

McGuire, a layperson who was married and had four children, also began assaulting a second victim, A.L., in 1973, during her weekly piano lessons at the church, where he would kiss her and “forcefully” fondle her under her shirt, according to the lawsuit. He continued to target that victim until 1976, the suit says.

Both the church and the diocese were aware of McGuire’s propensity to sexually abuse children but did not stop it, according to the suit.

McGuire died in 1996 at the age of 79.

“McGuire was known among the community, children, … the Diocese and the Church and their respective administrators and faculty as a sexual predator, including prior to and during when Plaintiffs were abused,” the lawsuit states. “Nonetheless defendants … failed to remove McGuire from his position as an organist and/or teacher or to take steps to keep the dangerous predator away from children.”

Lori Medley, the attorney representing Christ’s Church, could not be reached for comment, and Christ’s Church did not return a message seeking comment.

The steeple of Christ’s Church Rye, located at 2 Rectory St.

Christ’s Church is disputing the lawsuit, denying any knowledge of McGuire’s reputation or his alleged abuses. In February, the church sued its insurance carrier, Federal Insurance Co., in Westchester Supreme Court citing a breach of contract for failure to cover costs associated with the abuse claims.

McGuire worked as Christ’s Church organist, choirmaster, and piano teacher for 45 years, beginning at the age of 17, according to his obituary, and was responsible for designing the church’s current organ. The church, which was established in 1695 as Grace Church, was renamed Christ’s Church in 1796.

Later, McGuire spent 10 years at Port Chester’s Summerfield United Methodist Church as its organist, and played for the NBC Symphony Orchestra in concerts across the U.S. and Europe.

McGuire lived in Rye for 50 years before moving to Stamford, Conn., in 1993, shortly before his death.

The case against the church and diocese was first filed by A.L. in July 2021 through the state’s Child Victims Act, then refiled in January 2022 to include R.C. as a second plaintiff. Attorney Jordan Merson is representing both victims, who are requesting a jury trial and seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Merson could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit was filed through the state’s Child Victims Act, a 2019 law that granted a one-year lookback window for victims of sexual abuse who were under the age of 18 to file civil suits that had already been time-barred or expired. Following an extension, the window closed in August 2021.

The legislation led to a barrage of 10,857 court filings against New York religious institutions, schools, government agencies, individuals, and youth-serving organizations.

According to a report from Child USA, a nonprofit think tank, 51.7 percent of the court filings were against religious institutions, followed by youth-serving organizations (15.7 percent), individuals (15 percent), and schools (13.4 percent).

In December 2023, the city of Rye paid out $3.25 million to settle a lawsuit by a man who was allegedly abused in the 1970s, while at the age of 7, by a city fire lieutenant and Boy Scout leader. The lawsuit was filed under the Child Victims Act.

Merson’s law firm also represented that sexual assault victim.

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