Suit Charges Priests, Diocese with Abuse

By Stephanie Saul
Newsday [New York]
October 1, 2003

Twenty-seven Catholics who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens filed explosive charges Tuesday that their parish priests raped, sodomized and molested them as children in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Their claims are contained in a $300 million lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in Queens. It also accuses the leadership of the Diocese of Brooklyn of a "complex, well-organized, corrupt and successful scheme" to cover up the abuse.

The suit names 24 priests as defendants. It alleges they committed sexual abuse in rectories, behind altars, in confessionals, in parish school offices, in shower stalls, and at vacation homes. Five of the plaintiffs are women and 22 are men.

The abuse left them tormented with guilt, confused about their sexuality, and destroyed their faith in the church, the alleged victims say. Some have suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction.

"I have no belief in the church itself. I do not go to church," said Salvatore Carlino, a Deer Park businessman who is one of the plaintiffs.

Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the diocese, said officials there would not comment until they had seen the lawsuit. "We have not been served with any papers. Without having seen anything of an official nature, we wouldn't comment on any aspect of the lawsuit."

Carlino alleges he was molested by the Rev. Patrick Sexton during the 1980s at St. Cecelia's Parish in Greenpoint. Sexton, also the subject of other sexual abuse complaints, is no longer working as a priest. In the past, he has denied such allegations.

At least three of the defendants remain priests of the diocese, including the Rev. Vincent Gallo, the current pastor of St. Pancras Church in Glendale.

"You've taken me completely by surprise," Gallo said today. "I've got to collect my thoughts." He would not respond to the claim he abused a young boy at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Bushwick during the 1960s.

Also named as defendants were two priests currently assigned to administrative positions on the diocese's marriage tribunal, the Rev. Hugo Bedoya and Msgr. Francis Mulhall. Bedoya, contacted today at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, told a reporter to contact the diocesan leadership. Mulhall could not be reached for comment.

The Diocese of Brooklyn was not immediately available for comment.

The remaining priests apparently either have been suspended from the diocese based on sexual abuse allegations, have left the priesthood, moved away, or died. One of the defendants, Romano Ferraro, faces criminal sexual abuse charge in Massachusetts.

It is the second such lawsuit filed against the Diocese by attorney Michael Dowd. The first case, filed last October, named 42 plaintiffs and 13 priests as defendants. Eight of the clergymen named in the first suit also are named in yesterday's lawsuits, but by different alleged victims.

Among those named in both suits are Ferraro and the Rev. James Collins. Collins was suspended from his job last year at Bishop Kearney High School in Brooklyn, where his title was chaplain. The new allegation accuses Collins of fondling an altar boy in the rectory of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, where he was assigned in the 1980s.

Last week, 44-year-old Ridgwood man died who claimed that Collins also molested him. The man, Dennis M. Brown, apparently drank antifreeze. The medical examiner has yet to rule on whether Dennis M. Brown committed suicide.

Brown had planned to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit, according to Dowd, who said Brown's name will be added as soon as an executor is named for his estate.

Since his suspension from Bishop Kearney, Collins has been a volunteer bus driver for the women's softball team at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. A spokesman for the college said Collins has been accompanied by another adult at all times.

The lawsuit may well encounter legal hurdles because it involves abuse alleged to have occurred decades ago. Generally, victims of childhood sexual abuse in New York have until three years after they turn 18 to file lawsuits. Dowd is asking that the courts ignore that time limit because, he alleges, the Diocese engaged in a scheme to cover up the abuse.

But State Supreme Court Justice Janice Taylor ruled against that argument earlier this year, dismissing Dowd's first suit. That decision is being appealed.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.