Documents Allege Priest, Diocese Covered up Altar Boy's Drowning

Newsday [Utica NY]
July 28, 2003

UTICA, N.Y. -- The Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese covered up a priest's negligence in the drowning death of an altar boy in 1968, according to court documents filed in support of a $150 million sexual abuse lawsuit against the priest and diocese.

The alleged concealment "is a factor in showing a pattern of misconduct on the part of the defendant diocese to cover up the misdeeds of its priests" and should be considered by the court in rejecting any statute of limitations defense, wrote attorney Frank Policelli.

"This incident had a direct effect on my client's mental condition and his not coming forward with this for 30 years," Policelli said Monday.

Spokeswoman Danielle Cummings said the diocese would not comment on Policelli's allegations and would respond to the claims "through the appropriate legal channels."

In a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in May, John S. Zumpano of Utica claimed that he was sexually abused by the Rev. James Quinn from 1963 to 1970 while a student at St. Agnes Church's grammar school and Notre Dame High School.

Zumpano, now 52, accused diocese officials of showing "willful indifference and a reckless or intentional disregard" to the abuse and said they took no steps to investigate or stop it.

Quinn served as director of vocation promotion for the diocese and was in charge of enlisting and counseling young men for the priesthood. Although Quinn denied the accusations, he resigned his office and agreed to go on temporary leave while the lawsuit was pending.

Zumpano claimed Quinn would get him drunk and then abuse him. He said Quinn gave him money, jobs, a car and expensive trips to Hawaii and South America to silence him. When Zumpano tried to refuse Quinn's sexual advances, the clergyman roughed him up and forced him to continue, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said the abuse so traumatized Zumpano that he resorted to self-mutilation and several suicide attempts. Because of his emotional and mental problems, Zumpano was unable to confront Quinn or diocese officials, Policelli said.

As part of its response, the diocese contended the legal deadlines for raising such claims had passed.

In new legal papers filed last Friday, Policelli asked the court to order the diocese to turn over requested documents and Quinn's personnel file.

In those papers, Policelli also addressed the diocese's statute of limitations argument, contending that the drowning death of 12-year-old Albert T. Piacentino during a church picnic at Camp Nazareth on June 13, 1968, left Zumpano fearful for his own well-being.

Based on affidavits from witnesses, Policelli charged that Quinn was responsible for the supervision of the boys at the picnic but that Quinn had left the camp and returned to Utica. Piacentino drowned while diving off canoes into the water, according to court papers.

Quinn's attorney, Emil Rossi, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

At the time, the diocese reported that Quinn coordinated the search for the boy until police arrived.

According to the documents, Zumpano "has ever since then held a conviction that Quinn actually caused Piacentino's death and feared that Quinn would kill him ... It was this fear that Quinn would kill him that prevented him from coming forward before now."

"We know the priest didn't kill this boy, but he died and what's important is that my client had a real fear at the time, and that it was joined with the mental and emotional problems he was suffering as a result of the abuse," Policelli said.

Policelli added that he was discussing possible legal action with Piacentino's family


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